Sunday, January 3, 2010
Three Rivers, Tx
It's day 3, and I am in the very small town (2000 pop) of Three Rivers, Texas--so named because it is the confluence of the Atascosa, Frio and Nueces rivers. And I am here because close by at Choke Canyon State Park there is a northern jacana--a bird from Mexico that usually shows up in Tx or Az once a year.
After a great morning of birding at Bentsen Rio Grande State Park near McAllen, Tx, I drove up here 170 miles where I was successful in seeing the jacana. This is my first big year "drive" to see a specific bird, as opposed to generally birding an area like the south Texas hot spots along the Rio Grande River.
As I mentioned in my previous posting, I came to south Texas to begin my travels because of the first documented appearance of a bare-throated tiger-heron, which I was able to see late yesterday afternoon and again this morning. This became my first new life bird of the big year, and I added a second new life bird--a ferruginous pygmy-owl--as well. Above is a not so great picture of it taken with my cell phone thru a spotting scope . The tiger-heron is similar to the American bittern for those with a North American bird guide. The pygmy-owl is our rarest owl (there are 19 regularly occurring owls in N.A.), and is only 6.75 inches tall with a 12 inch wing span.
Another quite rare bird that I saw at Bentsen is the rose-throated becard, again a vagrant up from Mexico. A few individual birds are seen annually in south Texas, and southeastern Arizona.
While watching the tiger-heron, I had a chance to talk with some of the other birders in from around the country to see this rarity. For non-birders, there are birding hotlines in most states, and websites like birdingonthe.net that keeps a weekly link to all the state hotline websites. For the hard core birder, there is also a website called NARBA (North American Rare Bird Alert) that you can subscribe to for $35/year. This site is updated at least once a day and often 2-4 times.
So, when a rarity shows up, the hard core life listers will want to try to see the bird. One couple I spoke with had driven 1400 miles one way from Indiana. Another guy, who I already knew, and his friend attended the Gator Bowl football game in Florida, and then drove non-stop to south Texas to see the bird. For the guy I already knew, the tiger-heron was like his 775th life bird for North America above the Mexican border. And what is truly amazing about his life list is that he has never birded in Alaska. A third guy had driven over from Arizona.
On the food front, while south Texas is not known for having haute cuisine, and has more than its share of fast food places, I find the best local choice is the taquerias that are in all towns down here. The food is simple, very tasty, and also quite a bargain. When you can find them, breakfast tacos, a Texas staple, is also a good choice--certainly a step up from an egg McMuffin.
So after just 3 days, I have 2 new life birds, and added 58 more bird species to the year count. Tomorrow I am hoping to find a northern wheatear that was discovered 4 days ago about 1 hour drive from Three Rivers. I have been told by the Texas birders that this is only the 2nd record for this species here in Texas. Stay tuned!