Posts Tagged 'Texas'

Texas Birds II

Nyctanassa violaceaYellow-crowned Night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea).Pitangus sulphuratusGreat Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus).Bubulcus ibisA single Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) amid a herd of Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis).Myiarchus tyrannulusBrown-crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus tyrannulus).Ammodramus savannarumGrasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum).Picoides scalarisLadder-backed Woodpecker (Picoides scalaris).Ajaja ajajaRoseate Spoonbill (Ajaja ajaja).Ortalis vetulaPlain Chachalaca (Ortalis vetula).Himantopus mexicanusBlack-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus). Sporophila torqueolaWhite-collared Seedeater (Sporophila torqueola).Passerina versicolorVaried Bunting (Passerina versicolor).

Texas Birds I

Dendrocygna autumnalisBlack-bellied Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis).Arremonops rufivirgatusOlive Sparrow (Arremonops rufivirgatus)Tachybaptus dominicusLeast Grebe (Tachybaptus dominicus).Corvus cryptoleucusChihuahua Raven (Corvus cryptoleucus).Zenaida asiatica, Columbina passerinaWhite-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica) and Common Ground Dove (Columbina passerina).Amazona virdigenalisRed-crowned Parrot (Amazona virdigenalis).Molothrus aeneusBronzed Cowbird (Molothrus aeneus).Megaceryle torquataRinged Kingfisher (Megaceryle torquata).Caracara cheriwayCrested Caracara (Caracara cheriway).

Owl Ranch

Glaucidium brasilianumSan Migeulito Ranch is all owl, no cattle. A dozen miles from anywhere in Kenedy Co., and down a treacherously sandy road — we got stuck, as predicted, and needed a pickup to pull and five of us stout-hearted lads to push (this is when I think I picked up my tick and my chiggers, I’ll spare you pics of the savaged ankles) — it’s home to a pair of nesting Ferruginous Pygmy Owls (Glaucidium brasilianum). The birds are rare indeed for the U.S. They are also unusual for owls because they’re active in daylight. The ranch gives tours.Glaucidium brasilianum(Above shot through a spotting scope: I think I’ve finally figured out digiscoping.)
Glaucidium brasilianum

But wait! With this FPO, you also get:Megascops asioEastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio)! This nest box was no more than fifteen feet from the FPO nest box: the species seem to care less about each others’ proximity.Megascops asioBubo virginianusThe same thing could not be said for the local Great Horned Owls, which will eat little owls and big owls and any and everything else. There was a nest with two young in a nearby barn. Another nearby barn had had Barn Owls: ant lionsthe ground was littered with the tiny white bones from their prey, but there was no sign of them that day. (The pits are made by Antlions.)

On the way out, which is when we got stuck, we were shown another GHO nest, with another two young ones, perhaps a week from fledging. Bubo virginianus

Bonus Owl: here’s a GHO adult still sitting on eggs in a Sable Palm at the Sabal Palm Sanctuary:Bubo virginianus

The Rio Grande Valley

Rio GrandeI had some odd preconceptions of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo del Norte. For one, I thought it would be wider. Here we are downstream of Falcon Dam, about 100 miles from the river’s mouth. That’s Mexico on the right.Rio GrandeNow looking upstream, with the U.S. on the right. I also thought this indefinite border would be heavily urbanized and fortified. Not to say the river valley wasn’t crawling with immigration patrols. We were questioned, scanned, followed, and once, 70 miles north of the border at a highway checkpoint, with one Canadian and three Brits in our van, asked to produce our papers. That was pretty cursory, though: it would have been hard to be more Anglo-Anglo in that van. At this particular spot, we were looking especially for Red-billed Pigeon, who roost nearby. They care nothing for the border. Rio GrandeYou know the saying, “alas poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the U.S.”? The Valley was historically Mexican, and habitat-wise it essentially still is Mexico, hence its huge appeal to North American birders. Even before I birded I knew there were these “South Texas Specialities” in the back of Roger Tory Peterson’s field guide. Hooded, Altamira, and Audubon’s Orioles; Great Kiskadee, Counch’s Kingbird; Pyrrhuloxia; Clay-Colored Robin; Plain Chachalaca; Long-billed and Curve-billed Thrashers; Brown and Green Jays; White-collared Seed-eater; Olive Sparrow; Blue Bunting; Golden-Crowned Warbler and Gray-Crowned Yellowthroat; White-collared Swift; White-tipped Dove and Red-billed Pigeon; Aplomado Falcon; Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl; Northern Beardless Tyrannulet; Rose-throated Becard; Green-breasted Mango. A magical litany, many of which I saw (barring the bold-faced birds).

In addition, spring migration funnels birds along the coast. There’s a hawk watch at Bentsen State Park which can overflow with Broad-winged Hawks; we saw hundreds kettling. And south Texas knows it’s popular: the infrastructure catering to birders is impressive, if a bit Texan (with its “World Birding Centers”). We ran into four other organized tours and many other birders along the way. I went with Wings, my second trip with them. Highly recommended. Our guide was Gavin Bieber, also highly recommended. I have a good many pictures and stories to share in the coming days. Tomorrow: owls! chiggers!

Texas Testudines

Gopherus berlandieriTexas Tortoise (Gopherus berlandieri). Very fond of eating tender cactus fruit. scutesI also found the skeleton of one of these elsewhere and pulled off a few of the scutes to get some detail.Trachemys scriptaNice to see Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta) in their native region. Trachemys scriptaHere’s a recent hatchling, about the size of dollar coin.Apalone spiniferus emoryiTexas Spiny Softshell (Apalone spiniferus emoryi).Apalone spiniferus emoryiThis one was less than a foot long; they can get much bigger.

And another skeleton: Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata), I think.7

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Tyrannus forficatusYowza! Kinda gobsmacking, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Tyrannus forficatusTyrannus forficatus is a backyard bird in Texas.Tyrannus forficatusWe saw them every day. They’re the state bird of Oklahoma, too, where my mother was born. See it on the OK quarter. Tyrannus forficatusThe males have longer tails, and more intense coloring. Look for the orange underwings. And those salmon flanks!Tyrannus forficatusThe tail looks absurd, shameless showboating, and in the males the length is probably a marker for females, but these forked tails also make for sharp mid-air acrobatics, stalling and turning, just the thing for taking insects on the wing.Tyrannus forficatusIt’s Earth Day. Of course, here at Backyard and Beyond, every day is Earth Day. I hope you’re subscribing to these posts to celebrate with me.

Bill Strategies

Rynchops nigerBlack Skimmer (Rynchops niger) with Laughing Gulls (Leucophaeus atricilla).Recurvirostra americanaAmerican Avocet (Recurvirostra americana).Limosa fedoaMarbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa).Ajaja ajajaRoseate Spoonbill (Ajaja ajaja).Egretta rufescens, Himantopus mexicanusReddish Egret (Egretta rufescens) and Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus).Numenius americanusWait for it…Numenius americanusNumenius americanusLong-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus).Numenius americanusSome of the birds at an afternoon’s stop at the Hans & Pat Suter Wildllife Refugue in Corpus Christi.Numenius americanusYou know you can subscribe to these posts, don’t you, for free? I hear they are something of a welcome addition to people’s morning emails.


Anolis carolinensisThe Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis).Anolis carolinensisAs you might infer from its binomial name, a native of the south. In fact, the only anole native to the continental U.S. There are at least half a dozen non-native species in Florida. The southern-most tip of Texas also has the introduced Brown Anole (A. sagrei), who don’t observe any genus-loyalty and eat the Greens. Anolis carolinensisI tried to get a shot with the pink throat fan extended, as here, but from the side to best show off this mating and territorial marker (males have bigger ones, yadda-yadda).Anolis carolinensisAnother was flashing until I got the zoom on him.

Owl in the Hole

Bentsen State ParkTwilight. We were in Bentsen State Park, looking for Elf Owls (Micrathene whitneyi). These are our smallest owls, 1.4oz (compare with House Sparrow, .98oz, and Great Horned Owl, 3.1lb). There was a nest in a snag, perhaps originally carved out by a woodpecker. An owl was periodically poking out as the sun set. Micrathene whitneyi“Owl in the hole!” The distinctive “eyebrows” are visible even in this long-shot in low light. The other half of the pair showed up just as our human vision began to fail in the dark. We heard the birds calling as they prepared to hunt through the night.

Lesser Nighthawks were also in the air, zooming after insects. These southwestern nighthawks have more rounded wings and a white wing bar nearer the wingtip than the slightly larger Common Nighthawk. We heard the yip of coyotes in the distance and the onomatopoeic call of a Chuck-will’s-widow, very near. We were also on the look-out for Common Pauraques, another night-flying insectivore, found only in the southeastern tip of Texas (in the U.S., anyway). One did fly over our heads, heading downwards to the road, but we would have better views another day. Bentsen doesn’t allow cars (there’s a large golf cart type of tram during the day), giving us the freedom of the night road. There were a few fireflies. We heard the distinctive tremolo of an Eastern Screech Owl, which came to investigate us.

A magical night, with only a few mosquitoes and Ninja-garbed La Migra agents (as omnipresent in the Rio Grande Valley as Great-tailed Grackles). We had been accidentally locked out of our van; as we waited for the lock-popper, we looked at all four Galilean moons of Jupiter through a spotting scope.

Rio Grande Valley

Egretta tricolorA Tricolor Heron (Egretta tricolor) prowling the Laguna Madre off Padre Island.

I’ve returned from more than a week in south Texas and I have many pictures to sort though. Stay tuned for news of the 68 new-to-me bird species I saw and other excitements.Quiscalus mexicanusGreat-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus, omnipresent throughout the trip.


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