Friday, November 22, 2013

Pelagic Trip Cancelled; Chasing the Amazon Kingfisher in Texas, November 10

On Friday, November 8, while I was preparing to leave early on Saturday, November 9 to drive to Cape May, for the pelagic trip, I checked the Paulagics website and discovered that the Sunday, November 10, pelagic trip had been cancelled due to predicted high wind and high seas of 6-10 foot waves.  I put in a request to change my reservation to the Paulagics pelagic trip out of Lewes Delaware on Saturday November 16.  I was planning to head north in Ohio to chase down Little Gull, which was reported frequently near Cleveland, and try for Ring-necked Pheasant elsewhere in Ohio...until the next NARBA report!  Neil Hayward had the same bad luck with the new England pelagic, which was also cancelled due to high wind and high seas.  Neil headed for Arizona for Madera Canyon to try for the Eared Quetzal, which he did not see or hear and which has not yet been rediscovered as of this writing date (November 22). 

Meanwhile, back in Texas, on November 9, an Amazon Kingfisher was found by Jeff Bouton in the LRGV in Cameron County at the resaca along Rte. 100 just east of US 77.  Big Year plans change quickly and frequently!  Amazon kingfisher is a Life Bird for me.  I tried to see the first American Birding Area (does not now include Mexico) record of Amazon Kingfisher in 2010 at Laredo, but missed by one day, primarily due to a website failure.  I was supposed to meet Dan Sanders in Laredo, but the website to make a flight reservation went down at about 11:00 pm, delaying my flight by one day.  That one day was critical.  The bird was seen the day I had intended to arrive and was gone the next day.  At that time I was still working full time, and my time options were more limited.

This time I was able to get a flight to San Antonio on Sunday afternoon, November 10, arriving at about 8:30 pm.  I drove to Kingsville and stayed overnight, got up early and arrived at the resaca along Rte. 100 at about 9:30 to 10:00 am on Monday morning.  I arrived to hear that the Amazon Kingfisher had been seen and photographed early along the opposite side of the resaca at the western most vantage point.  I saw the distant photograph and thought something looked funny about that photograph.  More about that later.  There were lots of birders present waiting, waiting and more waiting and watching for another appearance of this very rare bird.  This is only the second North American record of this species.

Meanwhile, Neil Hayward was in the LRGV first seeing the Amazon Kingfisher, on Sunday and then looking for Hook-billed Kite near Riverside Club marina, Hidalgo and Anzulduas Park along the Rio Grande River on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning, and also tried for Sprague's Pipit at Anzulduas Park.  Two Hook-billed Kites were seen by David Irons and Shawneen Finnegan, both field trip leaders for the LRGV Birding Festival, one on the Mexican side and one on the US side.  These were reported in eBird.  While I waited for the Amazon Kingfisher to reappear, a Rose-throated Becard was seen at Santa Ana NWR, and Neil texted me that he was headed to Santa Ana having been unsuccessful in getting the kite or pipit.  Then while I waited patiently for the kingfisher, Neil texted me that he got  the becard and was looking at seven Groove-billed Anis near the visitor center in Santa Ana NWR.  I had tried hard for Groove-billed Ani in the LRGV and had struck out repeatedly.  However, Amazon Kingfisher is a Life Bird, and I was staying until it showed up again. 

Sorry, Neil if I discussed your blog entries before you actually make them!  It is not my intent to usurp your blog.  Just trying to show how complicated a Big Year can be with so many new birds showing up at the same time in multiple areas at one location as well at distant locations.  Constant decision making and flexibility in changing plans is required.

While waiting for the kingfisher to show, I investigated the area.  Further east along Rte. 100 toward Los Fresnos, there was a very open area along the resaca with good visibility.  The word on the ground from birders present was that this was the best and most reliable spot to see the Amazon Kingfisher.  Neil Hayward had verified that was his experience also.  I decided to park my butt there and wait.  Meanwhile, I had exchanged cellphone numbers with David Hanson and his wife from the Galveston area and Tal from the Dallas area.  Tal thought that we had met somewhere before.  Later he discovered it was in Bill Baggs in Key Biscayne, Florida looking for the Thick-billed Vireo and the Black-faced Grassquit in the spring.  Two groups of birders waited at the western and eastern spots with visibility of the resaca, but the eastern spot had the best visibility.  We needed to be able to communicate rapidly if the bird showed up at either place.  Also present looking for the Amazon Kingfisher was Monte Taylor from California, who has the largest list of birds photographed in the ABA Area.  I had met Monte on one of the pelagic trips out of Point Loma in California, but have not yet written up that trip report on my blog.  I first met Monte near Chicago several years ago when the elaenia, a South American flycatcher, showed up there.  I also met John Hintermeister and his birding buddy from Florida.  They had driven straight through from Gainesville overnight to come to see the Amazon Kingfisher.  That's dedication......but not that unusual for birders! 

Close to 11:00 am or 12:00 noon, two kingfishers flew up from an invisible location at the east viewing site and flew past me and over Rte. 100 to a resaca on the other side of Rte. 100.  Both birds showed a lot of white in the primaries on the wing, and I concluded that neither was the Amazon Kingfisher and most likely Belted Kingfishers.  A Belted Kingfisher had been at the western most observation point on the resaca since I arrived in the morning.  I walked across Rte. 100 and checked the resaca on the other side of Rte. 100, but could not find either bird.  The wait continued.

At about 2:45 pm (or was it 1:45 pm, easy to lose track of time!) two new birders arrived, Jeff and Richard, from the Galveston area.  I told them about the most recent observation of kingfishers, so they walked across the road to check again.  As they walked back, a kingfisher flew up out of the resaca across the road and landed in the open.  It was the female Amazon Kingfisher at close range.  I quickly texted Tal and the group from the south observation point arrived quickly to see and photograph the Amazon Kingfisher.  The Amazon Kingfisher put on a great show allowing us to view all of the key field marks!  It landed on a close snag at first showing the broken breast band, almost clean white in the center, of the female and massive bill.  A male Amazon Kingfisher has a cinnamon breast band.  Amazon Kingfisher is almost as large as Belted Kingfisher but is colored greenish like the Green Kingfisher.  This Amazon Kingfisher then showed off its style of hunting for prey by hovering like a Belted Kingfisher unlike the style of a Green Kingfisher, which does not hover.  In flight, Amazon Kingfisher has very little or no white in the primaries on the topside and has very limited white spotting on the wing coverts.  For Amazon Kingfisher, the amount of white showing in the coverts on the folded wing is much less than that for Green Kingfisher.  The tail of Amazon Kingfisher has white spotting, unlike the tail of a Green Kingfisher which has white on the outer edges at the base of the tail, visible in flight, on an otherwise solid green tail with very limited or no spotting.  It was great to see this Life Bird so well and get photos.  See below.
Amazon Kingfisher, massive bill, broken breast band
Amazon Kingfisher, with tail cocked up, showing tail spotting

Amazon Kingfisher, tail cocked up, white spotting

Amazon Kingfisher, leaving to hover

Amazon Kingfisher, hovering
Amazon Kingfisher, limited white in primaries in flight
For twenty to thirty minutes, the Amazon Kingfisher put on a great show.  Thoroughly enjoyable.  One lady who was present thought that the Amazon Kingfisher held its bill down while hovering, because the bill was so big and heavy that the bird cannot keep its head up!   Very humorous thought.  I got a good chuckle out of this comment.  But really, the bird needs to have its bill in position for prey capture and needs to be looking down to spot its prey. 

Amazon kingfisher is Life Bird number 810 for my ABA Area list with two provisional birds remaining to be counted, White-cheeked Pintail and Common Redstart.  Amazon kingfisher raises my year list to 695 + 2.

Later, it was discovered that the bird seen and photographed in the morning was not the Amazon Kingfisher.  For once, it was an advantage to arrive later in the day, for me, at least!  The distant photos showed a continuous unbroken breast band that was lower on the breast than Amazon Kingfisher.  That bird was likely a female Green  Kingfisher.  David Hanson and his wife went back and got to see and photograph the Amazon Kingfisher.  I texted him a congratulatory message for avoiding a major whoops.  I wonder about the other people.  Did they hear the news?  Could they get back to see the real deal?

After a quick stop for a salad for lunch  I headed to Santa Ana NWR to look for the Rose-throated Becard and the seven Groove-billed Anis.  I met Mary Gustafson there.  She said that the Groove -billed Anis could be seen at the water feature behind the visitor center early in the morning.  I stayed until sunset just before the refuge closed.  I was the last to leave the parking area.  I thought that I heard the Rose-throated Becard giving its thin high pitched two noted call, but no one found the bird that afternoon.  No Groove-billed Anis either.  Oh well, tomorrow is another day.  At least I got the Amazon Kingfisher.  Can't be greedy now, can we?   Why not?  Its a Big Year!      

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