My consolation prize was to spend a few hours at the recently reopened feeding station just above the river crossing. The state and the Valley Land Trust have been "working" for several months on an agreement to reopen the feeding station which for so many years was a destination for birders in the winter. The primary draw here is seeing Audubon's orioles, but many other valley species also visit the feeders. Between the drought and not feeding for many months the numbers of birds were way down. A eastern screech owl was snoozing in its box though (click on any photo to enlarge).
Over about 3 hours of watching we saw 27 bird species highlighted by the green jays, the greater kiskadees, and a pair of hooded orioles. We had a crested caracara fly over, and a gray hawk. 4 other birders from northern Virginia stopped in for a second time on their birding trip in hopes of picking up Audubon's oriole, but all of us were disappointed to not have any come to the feeders.
I have visited the lower Rio Grande Valley since the late 70's, and I have personally witnessed the vast changes that have occurred with the population growth in the area. But this was the first restaurant that showed me that modern fine dining had arrived in the Valley. I enjoyed talking with my wait person who said the place was doing so well that the chef/owner planned to open a second restaurant. I loved the lime shrimp dish, enjoyed a porchetta sandwich, and a dessert called a choco-mole.
I was so pleased with my experience that while seated at my table I called Neil to thank him for the recommendation. He was having coffee with Gerri back home in Cambridge which brings me close to the second half of this post--an update on the 2013 big year efforts. But first I will wrap up the rest of my trip.
I went to Santa Ana NWR Saturday morning where under overcast skies there was not much bird activity. At the feeder station by the headquarters I met Isaac Sanchez who is a long time friend of Jay Lehman. He had come down to Texas as part of his photographic big year to see the amazon kingfisher (you can find a link to his blog on the Narba website). We chatted some about Jay's big year. When it began to rain again, I headed back to my motel. I flew home yesterday to even colder temps in Chapel Hill.
As Thanksgiving week is now upon us, the 2013 big year birders have just over 5 weeks left in their adventures. Ron Furnish has not posted any more trip reports, and his year total is at 686. Jay Lehman just posted on his blog yesterday about finding a little gull which was his 700th bird for the year. He has 2 provisionals as well, and plans to continue birding to raise his year end total.
Neil is still not totally caught up on his blog posts, but if you go to his website and check his list you will see that his total is now up to 736 with 2 provisionals. The one sure bird left for him to see is the whooping crane. He also plans to make a trip to Alaska to see McKay's bunting, and a dusky thrush was reported yesterday in Anchorage. If he were also to go to Adak, he might pick up some rarities there. He is still hoping to see a great skua before the year is up. He also has seen aplomado falcon, but has so far not added it to his list. He now has seen all the code #1 birds in the ABA area, and all but 4 of the code #2 birds. He is now ahead of John Vanderpoel's pace in 2011 which means he has a shot at setting a new full ABA area big year record.
For comparison purposes, in 2008 Lynn Barber (723 total) after this date saw 9 more new species of which 6 were code #3 or higher. Of those birds, Neil has already seen 8. Bob Ake (731 total) in 2010 saw 11 more species of which 9 were code #3 or higher, and Neil has seen 6 of those 11. In 2011 John Vanderpoel (743 + 1 provisional total) saw 10 more new birds of which 9 were code #3 or higher. Neil has already seen 4 of John's last 10. Finally, in 1998 Sandy Komito (745 plus 3 provisionals total) only saw 5 more new species from this date forward of which 4 were code #3 or higher. Neil has already seen 2 of those 5. Stay tuned!