Thursday, April 11, 2013

Last Day in Texas, Salineno and Falcon State Park, April 8

I was very tired Sunday night and fell asleep without setting an alarm and awoke naturally at about 5:30 am Monday morning.  Unfortunately, I should have been on the road by 5:30 am to arrive before sunrise for the best chance for Red-billed Pigeon and Muscovy Duck fly-bys at Salineno. I arrived close to 8:30 am, delayed somewhat by the early morning go to work traffic,  to find Alex Cruz and John Yochum already there with great tales of all the Red-billed Pigeons and the Muscovy Duck that they had seen.  The Muscovy Duck flew up river toward Falcon Dam but the Red-billed Pigeons were flying both ways.  John said it had been the best morning he had ever experienced at Salineno.  Well, that success continued, because while I was there I saw between 12 to 15 Red-billed Pigeons, many on the Mexican far side of the river.  At one point, a flock of six Red-billed Pigeons flew south on the Mexican side and landed in the trees.  See photo of three of them, on which two of them the red bill and red legs and feet are visible. 
About half of the Red-billed Pigeons I saw flew close to the US shoreline or over our heads on the US side, so I can count these for my ABA area Big Year list.  I got a distant photo of a Red-billed Pigeon flying toward a tree on the US side south of the boat ramp in the vicinity of where the temporary feeders were maintained this winter.  See second photo.  The  river was quite high, much higher, John said, than on his most recent visit.  The higher water level was the result of negotiations between US and Mexico to allow more water to be released probably to relieve some of the stress of the drought on the US side, and most likely for agriculture.
We were expecting to see the Muscovy Duck fly-by south, and it happened.  Alex picked it up coming south near the US shoreline up-river in front of the island north of the boat ramp.  It nearly flew over our heads.  I was not able to get the best photos, because the Muscovy Duck was very close and moving quite fast.  See two photos below which are identifiable as Muscovy Duck if not the best photographs.   I was not able to get the whole bird in focus, and the head is not sharply in focus.  We also saw Audubon's Oriole in the tops of the trees on the Mexican side.  See photo below.  Unfortunately for my Big year list, I can not count this Audubon's Oriole for the ABA area.  I checked on Google maps about the location of the border at Salineno, specifically at the boat ramp.  The border is closer to the Mexican side than the US side, but the land is in Mexico.  We tried later in the morning in the village of Salineno, but I never saw an Audubon's Oriole there.  Alex thought he saw one but we were not able to locate it.  We continued to bird at the boat ramp, and at 10:30 am, John mentioned how unusual it was that we still had Red-billed Pigeon activity.  A cooperative Green Kingfisher gave photo opportunities.  See photo below.  I heard an unusual cowbird call and then John and I heard a definitive Bronzed Cowbird.  We found the Bronzed Cowbird sitting in a dead tree right nearby, another new bird for the year.   See photo showing the large bill and head and flat headed appearance with a red eye.  Then I heard a "whit" call and suggested that we need to find that bird, because it sounded like a Brown-crested Flycatcher.  We pursued the bird up-river on the US side.  The bird sounded like a Brown-crested Flycatcher but, as John stated, was very light colored like an Ash-throated Flycatcher.  Both birds are possible at Salineno at this time of year.  Finally we got a good look at the underside of the tail.  The dark brown along the outer edges of the closed tail did not curve around the bottom of the tail making this bird a Brown-crested Flycatcher, another new bird for the year.  Because there were reports of Audubon's Oriole in the village of Salineno, we went into town and parked near the church, where we found male and female Hooded Orioles.  I looked at a kingbird on the wire expecting the usual Couch's Kingbird but noticed the white outer edge to the tail feathers.  It was a Western Kingbird another new bird for the year.  I was pleased to hear the Western Kingbird call and sing.  I have not often
been in their breeding territory to hear them. 
See photo.  I wanted to drive the dump road from Salineno to get to Falcon State Park.  In previous visits I have found Pyrrhuloxia and Black-throated Sparrow  as well as Greater Roadrunner on this road.  John pointed out that Scaled Quail is also possible on this road as well as Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.  John suggested that I lead the way since I was doing a Big Year and needed to get the birds.  We exchanged phone numbers, and they agreed to flash car lights to signal me if I missed something.

On the way out of town, I thought that I heard an oriole call, and saw a small dove that might be an Inca Dove, so I stopped.  We did find an Inca Dove this time.  Earlier by the church in Salineno, I saw two small doves fly by that looked like Inca Doves but we could not find 
them.  At this stop with Inca Doves, Alex found the oriole, which was a Bullock's Oriole.  I was able to get on the bird and see the smaller sized oriole, smaller than Hooded, with large white wing patches, but it flew away quickly.  Alex also thought that he saw an Audubon's Oriole fly into a nearby tree, but we were never able to find it.  Along dump road I found Black-throated Sparrow, stopped because I heard a call that I thought might be Pyrrhuloxia, and John confirmed that it was, found a Cactus Wren and heard a Cassin's Sparrow without being prompted by flashing headlights.  I found out later that John and Alex had a private joke about how often they would need to flash their lights at me.  They stopped for a Horned Lizard (Toad), which I saw run across the road but ignored because I was focused only on birds.  I guess that I'm on a roll in my Big
Year, because it turned out that they did not have to flash their lights. We continued to Falcon State Park to the feeders and the blind with feeders

managed by volunteers and located near the butterfly garden.  The new birds for me that the volunteers indicated are present at the feeders are Common Ground Dove and Greater Roadrunner.  John, Alex and I stayed at the feeders behind the camper of the volunteers, but these new birds did not show up.  A cooperative Pyrrhuloxia showed up.  See photo with an Inca Dove in the background.  At the feeders with a blind in the mesquite, a Black-throated Sparrow showed up.  See photo.  We left the feeder area to look for the Audubon's Oriole nest found by John from Massachusetts.  However, we were not successful.  We returned to stop at the feeder area.  I wanted to look for Greater Roadrunner and Common Ground Dove.  I did get the Greater Roadrunner at first close to but not at the feeders.  The Greater Roadrunner then moved toward the feeders and came in to the water bath.  See last photo.  It was about 3:30 pm and Alex had to leave to start back to get his flight back to Minnesota leaving from Harlingen Airport.  I had hoped to be able to get to Laredo to try for White-collared Seedeater, but given the time, I had to cancel those plans.  I had an early flight at 6:50 am on Tuesday, tomorrow, from San Antonio and was quite tired from the last two days of long-distance travel,  birding until after dark for the Elf Owl and then getting up early to get to Salineno.  The choice to get the Whooping Cranes eliminated a try for White-collared Seedeater for this trip.  It was at least two hours to Laredo and at least four hours from Laredo to San Antonio.  I said goodbye to Alex and John and stayed in the area to look for Common Ground Dove at the feeders.   When that search and wait was unsuccessful, I returned to Salineno to look for Audubon's Oriole in the US.  There was also a possibility for Common Ground Dove in Salineno and a Ringed Kingfisher fly-by down by the river, but that did not happen.  Between 4:00 and 5:00 pm, I saw two more Red-billed Pigeons fly by the boat ramp on the US side.  One flew south and then another or the same one flew north.  I did not find the Audubon's Oriole in the US, nor the Common Ground Dove or the Ringed Kingfisher.  At about 5:15 pm, I started to drive back to San Antonio.  I arrived at a motel near the San Antonio International Airport at about 
10:45 pm.  I had stopped along the way to buy gas and get something to eat. On my last day of this trip to Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, I added Red-billed Pigeon and Muscovy Duck, the two sought after specialty birds for Salineno.  In addition, I added Bronzed Cowbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, Bullock's Oriole, Inca Dove, Pyrrhuloxia, Black-throated Sparrow and Greater Roadrunner.  The ten new birds makes the total 331 at the end of this trip.  I plan to return to Texas in about two weeks after a trip to Florida and to Colorado for grouse/chickens unless a special trip for a rarity interferes with this plan!



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  2. Jay,

    Following your Big Year is big fun. I appreciate it that you tell us about every single bird that you add to your list.
    Tom Eshelman
    Westerville, OH - home of cooperative screech owls

  3. Cool birds Jay. I wish I had hung out at Salineno a little longer when I visited. I'm still going through all the photos. It was an amazing trip. Not sure where I'm going next. I am so jealous of the ringed kingfisher!