Spring in South Texas Apr 01—10, 2012

Posted by Barry Zimmer

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Barry Zimmer

Barry Zimmer has been birding since the age of eight. His main areas of expertise lie in North and Central America, but his travels have taken him throughout much of the wo...

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From the bluff overlooking the river at Santa Margarita Ranch, we had an incredible view of the Rio Grande to the north and south, a large riparian stretch on the United States side of the river to our right, and a huge expanse of Mexico in front of us. With the sun rising at our backs, the viewing conditions couldn't have been more perfect.

Red-billed Pigeon

Red-billed Pigeon— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Almost immediately upon arrival, a Red-billed Pigeon sat up atop a willow for a good view in the scope. Great Kiskadees and Couch's Kingbirds seemed to be everywhere. A nearly fluorescent Altamira Oriole responded in a bare tree below us and drew gasps from the group with its stunning orange plumage. In short time, we heard the somewhat stilted, but melodic whistles of an Audubon's Oriole, and were able to bring in a pair to the same tree that had harbored the Altamira. A chorus of Plain Chachalacas greeted the dawn to our right and a Clay-colored Thrush darted through the treetops below us. A small group of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks cruised upriver toward Falcon Dam, while a showy Scissor-tailed Flycatcher went downstream. Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed woodpeckers sat up on snags in the morning sun, and a troop of Green Jays skulked through the forest next to the bluff. Someone in the group spotted a Yellow-billed Cuckoo across the river, and while they were giving directions to find the bird, it flew across to our side. Ultimately it perched in a mesquite tree no more than 30 feet in front of us in the open for nearly 15 minutes! More Red-billed Pigeons flashed by and then, quite unexpectedly, a pair landed in the closest tree directly in front of us. Instead of flushing immediately as soon as they saw us, they stayed for several minutes allowing incredible scope views and photographic opportunities.

As the morning progressed, raptors began to rise up out of the trees. First a few Broad-wingeds, then numbers of Swainson's Hawks and Crested Caracaras. Another bird got up quite far away but in good light. The slaty-gray upperparts, barred underparts, and checkered, paddle-shaped wings revealed a male Hook-billed Kite! This species is seen on only about a third of our trips here. We were excited, but the view had been distant. Suddenly two more appeared, a pair of Hook-billed Kites about twice as close as the first. They rode the thermals up high as we alternated viewing them through the scope. This was the icing on the cake of an amazing morning on our recent Spring in South Texas tour.

Our trip began on the Central Coast where we enjoyed fantastic studies of Whooping Cranes (29 total) from as close as 50 feet; striking Roseate Spoonbills; numerous Reddish Egrets; White-tailed Hawk; nearly 30 species of shorebirds including Long-billed Curlew, Stilt Sandpiper, and Snowy, Wilson's, and Piping plovers; Clapper Rail; a rare Lesser Black-backed Gull; a Sedge Wren in the scope for five minutes; a beautiful Prairie Warbler; and Seaside Sparrow among others. On the King Ranch we marveled at Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (walkaway scope views), gem-like Buff-bellied Hummingbirds, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Tropical Parula, Audubon's Oriole, and a bobcat that walked out in the open for a few minutes on the road in front of us!

Farther south in the Lower Rio Grande Valley we tallied Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Least Grebe, migrating kettles of Broad-winged Hawks, Green Parakeet, Red-crowned Parrot, roosting Pauraque from ten feet, roosting Chuck-will's-widow, Green Kingfisher, Long-billed Thrasher, and Clay-colored Thrush. Nearby South Padre Island had a great variety of migrants including a fabulous male Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and 11 species of warblers with a Townsend's, a male Blackburnian, a Prothonotary, and a Yellow-throated as the highlights. Finally, in the vicinity of Falcon Dam and Zapata, we added a pair of Muscovy Ducks, Gray Hawk, Scaled Quail, Greater Roadrunner, Ringed Kingfisher, and a singing male White-collared Seedeater.

In all we tallied 229 species on our incredible journey through South Texas!