Friday, May 9, 2008

The Great Texas BIrding Classic: Day 1

  • We got up at 430AM to begin the first day of the classic. I ate breakfast at the Denny's next to the hotel, (how the hell can they mess up oatmeal???) and came back to the hotel. David and Tony were outside loading the car. We heard a bird singing away, but it didn't register what it was. I was assuming it was a Mockingbird and didn't really pay attention. Suddenly David or Tony said "That's a Tropical Kingbird!". We could not count it unless all four of us were within voice distance, so I ran upstairs and opened the hotel room door. David called up to see if Lynn could hear us. She could and so we got the first official bird of the competition!

We jumped in the car and headed towards Salineno and the Rio Grande River. We stopped on the way on the road to Santa Margarita Ranch to listen for Poor Wills and other nightjars. To our chagrin we saw the car of one of our competitors, the Butcher Birds, from New Jersey. There is an air of friendly competition between the week long teams, though we do take it rather seriously. We heard our Poor Will and Common Paraques calling, so we took off for the river.

We got to Salineno right before dawn, which is the best time to pick up Muscovy Ducks. Unfortunately, they must have slept in. We did start ticking off some of the Rio Grande specialties like Greater Kiskadee, Green Jay and Green and Ringed Kingfisher. Shortly after we arrived our nemesis team, the Butcher Birds, showed up, too. Instead of calling out the birds, we started cluing in our team mates with winks and nudges. We noticed the BBs scoping the island in the center of the river, so we did the same, picking up Red-billed Pigeon. David's alarm went off, signalling it was time to move on to the next stop, so we left our friends on the bank with a few gentle barbs.

We proceeded to Falcon County Park, where we had heard the Pygmy Owl the day before. We quickly found a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, which had eluded us the day before. Then we discovered one of our best birds of the trip, a Brewer's Sparrow, feeding in the grass with some Clay-colored Sparrows. We headed to the area where the owl had been calling the night before, only to have deafening silence answering David's call. We knew we had a chance for this species at Bentsen State Park, but we were still a bit let down.

We birded Falcon Lake, which was not very productive, and then headed south down the river. We stopped and had lunch on the bluffs at Roma, where we found a Black Phoebe. Then we drove to Frontera Audubon in Weslaco, which was fairly productive with migrants and other birds, including a good look at a Clay-colored Robin. Groove-billed Anis were playing around in the mesquites off of the boardwalk.

It was getting to be late afternoon, so we drove like crazy to Sabal Palms, where we got Least Grebe, leaving just minutes before they close at 5PM. After that we went searching, successfully, for Botteri's Sparrow and Aplamado Falcon on Old Port Isabel Road. We cut back to Brownsville, where we found both Green Parakeets and Red-crowned Parrots, nesting in the palms at Fort Brown. We did a little trolling for Tamaulipas Crows, with no success. They have been extremely sporadic this year, so that wasn't surprising.

It was getting close to sunset, so we scooted over to Bentsen State Park to look for owls and other night birds. We walked into the park and picked up Elf Owl rather quickly. We went further in, battling mosquitoes, were we were successful in hearing Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, to our great relief. Eastern Screech Owls were also calling, along with more Paraques. We headed to the Comfort Inn in Mission for a well deserved night's sleep.

No comments: