I suspect that any self respecting Groove-billed Ani is buried deep in the underbrush to escape the cold temperatures or has departed for parts south of the border. I continued looking around the visitor center and in the thick bushes that border the canal, but no luck. At about 7:30 or 8:00 am, I walked the Willow Lakes Trail at the spots for Groove-billed Ani. No luck again. Jeff and Richard from Galveston showed up again still looking for the Rose-throated Becard. Eventually, more birders showed up. Both the birds and the birders were slowed by the relatively colder temperatures. I kept looking for the anis but without success. Another birder reported seeing a Hook-billed Kite from the levee road. Richard, Jeff and I hustled out there to take a look. However, Richard and I found only three Harris's Hawks. Meanwhile, Jeff walked out to the tower to look for hawks and maybe the Hook-billed Kite. Richard and I continued looking from the levee road. Soon, Jeff texted me that he thought he had a Hook-billed Kite. Richard and I walked rapidly to the tower. When we arrived on the tower with Jeff, he described where he saw the bird. We started scanning. I found two different Gray Hawks perched up but we never found a Hook-billed Kite. We continued to scan but no Hook-billed Kite showed. Soon we heard the tram pull up. It was filled with school kids, probably high school age, who were very noisy. The Gray Hawks disappeared, apparently due to the noise and disturbance, and we hustled down off the tower as the kids started tramping up the steps and shaking the tower. With this group we would see no more hawks and certainly not a Hook-billed Kite. We exited rapidly back toward the visitor center.
I continued to look for Groove-billed Anis unsuccessfully throughout the day. Yesterday, I had a very promising close call. I received a text message, maybe from David Hanson, that there was a Groove-billed Ani at the feeding station by the visitor center. I was halfway out the Willow Lakes Trail, you guessed it , looking for anis. I turned tail and walked as fast as possible back to the visitor center and arrived within 10 minutes. Jeff had received the same text and got there within 5 minutes. Neither of us saw a Groove-billed Ani. We searched the area thoroughly but came up empty. Red-winged Blackbirds and Great-tailed Grackles were still there as always. The Groove-billed Ani was apparently heard calling and not seen at first. After the call was heard, some people thought that they might have caught a glimpse of an ani. However, there were different levels of confidence by the people at the feeding station in having seen or heard a Groove-billed Ani in the area. No one seemed 100% certain in my opinion. These anis are like a "will 'o the wisp."
Getting back to the present, November 13, soon it was noon. I decided to stay the whole day at Santa Ana NWR to try for Hook-billed Kite and Groove-billed Ani. Both would be excellent additions to my list. In the past, I had been at Santa Ana NWR in November and had seen Hook-billed Kite while walking the trails. However, perhaps this past experience was an exceptional one. Hook-billed Kites feed on the snails that live in the trees. They are up soaring occasionally when they move from roost to feeding location and back or when they move to a new feeding location. Jeff and Richard from Galveston and I saw many snail shells on the ground along the trails. Jeff had walked the Jaguarundi Trail down to the Rio Grande River and had seen more there than along the Willow Lakes Trail and other trails. The only other bird I needed to look for at this time on this trip to Texas and LRGV is White-collared Seedeater. If I stay at Santa Ana NWR until sunset, I can still get to Laredo early in the morning to try for seedeater before driving to San Antonio to turn in my rental vehicle and fly back to Ohio. I need to drive to Lewes, Delaware on Friday to get on the pelagic trip on Saturday, November 16.
In the early afternoon, the sun warmed things up, and on the Willow Lakes Trail, the wind was not as strong, maybe due to the trees and being down lower behind the levee. I noticed that the butterflies got active in the early afternoon and I saw a few reptiles. Perhaps, the anis would be more active in the afternoon with more insects and reptiles actively moving around and more available. I also pursued a recent interest in photographing butterflies. I found this Julian Heliconian, one of the longwings, on the Willow Lakes Trail beyond the observation platform with the roof while I was looking for Groove-billed Ani. This was the first one that I saw this year in the LRGV.
|Julian Heliconian, resting and slightly worn|
|Julian Heliconian, feeding on flower|
In addition, near the water feature behind the visitor center I found this Zebra Heliconian, also a longwing.
Richard and I made one last try for the Hook-billed Kite on the tower near the old manger's residence location. We succeeded in finding some distant and close Harris's Hawks, the Gray Hawks, again and a distant perched raptor way out on the Pintail Lakes side toward the levee, that turned out to be a immature Red-shouldered Hawk. One distant and dark bird was in a position that obscured field marks; therefore, Richard rushed back to his car to get his telescope. I stayed to keep track of the hawk. I had been lazy and did not carry my scope with me in a back pack all the time. Soon after Richard left for his telescope, the distant hawk flew up out of the obscuring branches and revealed all the field marks of a Harris's Hawk. Soon, Richard returned with Jeff. Jeff had been searching unsuccessfully for the Rose-throated Becard, even though it had been seen briefly by a few people in the warmer afternoon. The becard was seen again along the parking lot but had flown down into the thick underbrush, probably to escape the wind and cold and to find active insects to supplement the berries available. There was less protection from the wind in the parking lot area and near the visitor center. After Jeff and Richard joined me on the tower, we scanned for about 20-30 minutes and then gave up. It was getting cold as the sun dropped in the west. Jeff and Richard had a long drive ahead of them, and I needed to get some rest. I had walked three to four miles each of the last two days at Santa Ana NWR or was standing looking in the tree tops for Rose-throated Becard or searching into the underbrush for Groove-billed Anis. I was tired. The long drive to Laredo would be easier in the morning with a good night of rest after a warm meal. After walking out the Willow Lakes Trail, to try for Groove-billed Ani one last time, I made one last pass by the thick bushes along the canal near the visitor center and the water feature behind the visitor center. On the Willow Lakes Trail, I met David True, again, this time with his girl friend. I knew David from birding in Ohio at Spring Valley Wildlife Area not far from Cincinnati. I met him in the spring at Aransas NWR, where he now works, when I went there to get Whooping Crane. David and his girlfriend were doing a Texas Big Year and had reached 400, if memory serves me correctly.
I left Santa Ana reluctantly, having come so close to adding my nemesis bird, Groove-billed Ani. I will wait until overwintering Groove-billed Anis are found in the LRGV, or another great rare bird shows up to return to search for Groove-billed Ani. I stayed the night in Mission, right along Rte. 83 for my early morning trip to Laredo and Las Palmas Trail to search for White-collared Seedeater.
No new birds for the year.
PS: I am writing this from home in Cincinnati, OH on November 23. Since my visit to the LRGV, 6 Groove-billed Anis were heard and seen at Resaca De La Palma SP at one of the brush piles by Sherri Wilson on Sunday, November 16 and 4 were reported just yesterday, November 22, by Sherri Wilson on the Quail Loop at Resaca de La Palma, where I had searched extensively earlier in October. These are either hangers on from the breeding population or migrants moving south through the area from more northern breeding areas along the coast. There's still hope, but I need to move on to get other more readily available birds added to my list.