Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Not South Texas Again!

I am sitting here scratching my head almost in disbelief that I am actually in south Texas for the 5th time this year. And it is July to boot. I was here at the end of June back in 2007 and said to my long time friend from Missouri who was with me on that trip that we should never come back here in the middle of the summer. I called him this morning about 9 AM to tell him how lucky he was to not be standing with me in such a bug infested, high heat and humidity spot.

I came down in the worst of the weather cycle for south TX because a yellow-green vireo has been heard/seen in Brownsville in the past 2 weeks. I also saw that my nemesis bird for this big year--the hook-billed kite--had been seen feeding near its nest site in Chihuahua Woods, a Nature Conservancy Preserve. In fact, the local birders say that this is the 1st successful nesting by hook-billed kites in south TX since 2002. So I got a frequent flyer ticket and flew down here yesterday.

I arrived at Chihuahua Woods a little before 7 AM in hopes of seeing the kite feeding on the snails which are its main food. I actually was hopeful after arriving at the site because I don't think I have ever seen so many snails in one spot. The mosquitoes were only a nuisance because of the Deep Woods Off that I had doused myself with, including my shirt. Fortunately, my wind pants were too thick for the bugs to bite thru. While waiting for a kite to come feed, I had the good fortune of having a groove-billed ani fly in and perch near me for a good look before moving on. This was another bird that had eluded me on my earlier visits to south TX.

After a couple of hours of staking out the feeding site, I had seen numerous birds. More northern mockingbirds in one spot than I can ever remember seeing plus long-billed and curve-billed thrashers, cardinals and pyrrhuloxias, great kiskadees, brown-crested flycatchers, golden-fronted woodpeckers, great-tailed grackles, and white-winged and inca doves. But no kite, so I decided to walk down one of the trails. As I came out into a powerline cut I saw off in the distance a large, raptor-like bird fly up and land on a pole. My heart fluttered in anticipation only to calm down when I saw that it was the very common harris's hawk. A 2nd flew in next to it that looked like a juvenile. After another hour of looking and waiting I decided that I would try some other locations.

I next drove to Bentsen Rio Grande SP, but the visitor center is only open Wed-Sun for the summer. Without any current bird info, I was not willing to walk the 1.5 miles out to the hawk tower in 90+ degree heat. I did see another groove-billed ani next to the visitor center.

Next I headed over to Anzalduas county park only to find that I could not get in because it was closed in case the Rio Grande flooded as a result of the rains from tropical storm Alex. Then I drove on over to Santa Ana NWR to see if they had any good local intel. One of the wardens said that he had seen hook-billed kites late morning in the past couple of days. I hesitated because of the bugs and heat, but then put on my hat and more bug juice, and headed out to the hawk tower which is only about a 1/4 mile walk.

The wind was blowing some, and there was occasional cloud cover, but it was still hot and muggy. There were birds down in the trees below the tower, but nary a bird up in the sky. I kept scanning but continued to see nothing. After 30 minutes I was ready to call it a day when I looked to the west and saw a good sized raptor-like bird come up out of the trees. I watched it slowly rise up a bit and realized that I was watching a female hook-billed kite. It did not stay up long before it settled back down into the trees. I waited a bit longer in hopes that it would rise up again, but when it did not I finally packed it in for the day. This was not the perfect close-up sighting one would want for a life bird, but I will take it knowing that I will see more hook-billed kites now that I have finally seen my first.

Since I was not able to get a shot of the kite, instead I have posted at the top a photo of an intermediate rufous colored red-tailed hawk that I saw in Idaho on my way down to Salt Lake City.

I am now sitting in a nicely cool motel room, watching the dutch play Uruquay in the semis of the world cup. The past 2 days of birding have added 24 more new birds for the week. The ani and kite raise the YTD up to 634, and the tally of new life birds for the year is now at 18. Tomorrow I will be down in Brownsville hunting for the yellow-green vireo. Stay tuned!

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