Friday, October 17, 2014

Texas Tour 2014 - Rio Grande Valley: Day 2 - Sept. 15, 2014

     After a restless night in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV), waking up at 6:45am was not easy, but we managed to make it out of the house by sunrise. Temperatures held in the 70s (F), which was perfect for some serious birding. Our first stop was at Edinburg Scenic Wetlands and World Birding Center. This birding hotspot is essentially a large pond with a walking trail and some vegetation around it, located in the middle of an urban area just north of McAllen, TX. These wetlands are a perfect oasis for birds and other wildlife in an otherwise inhospitable area. Thus, in about 2 hours we were able to spot 31 bird species just around the pond! We saw all possible Kingfishers (Green, Belted, and Ringed), heard Loggerhead Shrikes screaming at each other, and detected Dickcissels calling from the tall grasses. In addition, I added both Bewick's Wren and Curve-billed Thrasher to my life list! I was slightly disappointed that my first Curve-billed Thrasher just had to be sitting atop a pile of trash and old tires in an adjacent lot. Perhaps it should be renamed to Curve-billed Trasher.

Great-tailed Grackle

Yellow-crowned Night-Herons (immature and adult)
     Our next stop was the Quinta Mazatlan World Birding Center in McAllen, TX. Here the Plain Chachalacas were parading around with their adolescent offspring, Clay-colored Thrushes hopped around on the walking trails, and a male Blue Grosbeak popped out of some thick vegetation to model for us. I was also happy to redeem my memories of Curve-billed Thrasher by seeing one that was NOT on a trash pile. We did not stay here very long because we wanted to get to Anzalduas Park before I had to leave the RGV and continue on my adventure.

Quinta Mazatlan!

Olive Sparrow

Plain Chachalaca

Spiny-backed Orb Weaver

Curve-billed Thrasher
    Anzalduas Park is located along the banks of the Rio Grande River, and supposedly hosts breeding Gray Hawks in the spring and summer, which was our target species. Although we did not see a single Gray Hawk, we managed to not get questioned by border patrol, and I finally got to see my lifer Black-crested Titmouse!

Black-crested Titmouse (of course, hiding most of his crest)

 The one surprising thing I learned during this birding stop was how much narrower the Rio Grande River actually is compared to what I had imagined it would be like. Of course, like any river, it naturally widens and narrows depending on the surrounding landscape and bedrock, but I was not expecting to be able to easily pick up birds for my Mexico list while standing on US soil. This new-found birding tactic was very exciting to me, and I spent a prolonged amount of time staring across the river hoping to see as many birds in Mexico as possible. My final tally for Mexico was 5 species, which included Anhinga, Laughing Gull, Great Egret, Turkey Vulture, and Great-tailed Grackle.  

View of Mexico across the Rio Grande River
    One of my goals for this Texas tour was to see one of my favorite raptors - a Harris's Hawk. Thus, on the way back to Tiff's house from Anzalduas Park we took some back roads and watched for brown "lumps" in trees and on telephone poles (also still holding out for Gray Hawk). As luck would have it, we didn't have to search very hard before seeing a Harris's Hawk perched on a roadside utility pole. He/she even cooperated with me long enough so I could dig the camera out of the back seat to get a photo, and then flew low over my head and off into the distance. Just a bit further down the road we also came across two Crested Caracaras and a Turkey Vulture who were ripping apart a Skunk that had become roadkill. 

Harris's Hawk

Immature and adult Crested Caracara with a Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture and Crested Caracara feeding on Skunk

Turkey Vulture with the spine of the Skunk

Crested Caracara (immature)
     I was planning on leaving the RGV with plenty of time to get back to Corpus Christi and drop the rental vehicle off by 6pm. Of course, with all the great birding and "catching up" that needed to be done, I didn't leave Tiff's house until around 3pm. Luckily, going through the only border patrol checkpoint I encountered the whole trip did not take more than about 3 minutes. Even with a few rainstorms along the way, I somehow made it back to the Corpus Christi airport and returned the car at exactly 6pm! When I entered the rental return lot, the attendant asked me to roll down the back windows and he looked inside. He apparently didn't find anything suspicious, and just told me to go ahead and park. He also told me to "stay sweet". Oh Texas.....
     When I filled out the final paperwork for the rental, I was surprised to see that I had put 700 miles on the vehicle in the 3 days I had it, and spent only $80 on fuel! The strange thing is that I didn't feel like I had been driving that much. I guess flat roads and high speed limits will play tricks on your mind like that.
      By the time Libby arrived at the airport to pick me up we were both very hungry and decided to get some dinner at a local Mexican restaurant called Taqueria Guadalajara. The place was bustling, but we were seated right away. Although the waitress got half of our order wrong, it was corrected with only minimal hassle, much of which were due to language barriers. When we finally got the correct items, they were not only at a great price, but they were absolutely delicious! My fajitas and shrimp even came on a sizzling skillet!

Fajitas and Shrimp on a sizzling skillet at Taqueria Guadalajara

     After dinner both Libby and I retreated to her house for some general catching up and nerding out over birds we have seen, want to see, and REALLY want to see.

Next up: experiencing raptor migration at the Corpus Christi Hawk Watch.

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