Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Birding Texas Lower Rio Grande Valley: State and Local Parks (Part 1)

The Rio Grande River winds through mountains and deserts of the Southwest, bringing life to the arid landscapes before reaching the Gulf of Mexico. From its Colorado headwaters in the San Juan Mountains, the river flows through New Mexico and into Texas, forming an international boundary between the United States & Mexico. The Rio Grande makes its final stretch to the sea in southernmost Texas, nourishing plant and animal life on both sides of the river.

Over 95 percent of the Lower Rio Grande Valley lands have been converted to agriculture and other developments. As a result, the birds are dependent on state and federal wildlife refuges such as Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in addition to private ranches, Audubon centers, local wildlife sanctuaries, and urban parks.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service got the ball rolling in 1979 by working closely with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department to initiate a Wildlife Corridor project along the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Through the joint efforts of both public and private groups, approximately 90,000 acres have been acquired along the river. The project goal is 132,000 acres.

We were lucky enough to spend 2 weeks in the area during the middle of May & yes it was very hot and humid. We visited State and local parks in addition to National Wildlife Refuges. We are splitting the blog into 2 parts: first part will cover the wildlife seen at the State and local parks and the second part will cover the wildlife seen at the National Wildlife Refuges.

We had the opportunity to spend time in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Estero Llano Grande State Park, the Anzalduas County Park and the Sabal Palm Sanctuary near Brownsville Texas.

We hope you enjoy a few of the wildlife photos we captured on our visits to these special places:

The Altamira Oriole is the largest oriole occurring in the United States. One of the key characteristics of the Altamira is an orange shoulder bar.

Male Altamira Oriole
The Altamira Oriole makes the longest nest of any North American bird: it can reach up to 25 inches long.
Black-bellied Whistling Duck family: it is amazing that those little black-and-white puffballs turn into these elegant Black-bellied Whistling Ducks:-)
The Black-crested Titmouse is found in the oak woods, subtropical scrub woodlands and towns of Texas and northeastern Mexico.
This male Black-throated Green Warbler was migrating through to its northern breeding grounds.
We were able to get these great looks at the Blue Grosbeaks at a bird blind in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. You can tell this is a first year male Blue Grosbeak because of the  hints of blue on his head.

Stunning views of the adult male Blue Grossbeak

This male Bronzed Cowbird puts on quite a show trying to impress the ladies. These birds are brood parasites, meaning the female lays her eggs in the nests of other birds.

 The Brown-crested Flycatcher: their 2 entry points from Mexico into the U.S. are southern Texas and southern Arizona.
They nest in cavities. Here they took over the nest of an Elf Owl that had finished with its brood.
The Buff-bellied Hummingbirds breed along the Caribbean Slope from south Texas to Mexico and Belize.

Cave Swallows are a locally common swallow of Texas, Mexico and the Caribbean. It often roosts and nests inside the entrance to caves sharing the space with bats.
Baby Clay-colored Thrushes

The Adult Clay-colored Thrush standing guard nearby...
with a mouthful to feed the youngsters
The uncommon Common Pauraque :-) Pauraques belong to that strange group of birds called "Nightjars", which includes Poorwills and Nighthawks. They can be almost impossible to find because they are so well camouflaged.
It was nice to see this soaring Cooper's Hawk.  During the summer, this area is missing the other accipiter, Sharp-shinned Hawks.
Couch's Kingbirds in the throws of territorial battle and getting ready to nest.....

All is well...that ends well:-)
Crested Caracara looking for carrion

Dragonflies & Butterflies: I am trying to get better at identifying ...

Maybe a Smoky Rubyspot damselfly
Maybe a Red-tailed Pennant
Maybe a Painted Lady....
This Eastern Screech Owl looks like he has a few words for us
Frog sunning on the lily pads
This is an adult Gray Hawk: the barring on the flanks is characteristic
Great Kiskadee with a mouthful...probably going to feed young. We noticed that if a parent had a mouthful and were aware of our presence they would not go to their nest until we left. We assume this is a strategy to not draw attention to their nest. If a predator bird, such as Jay, saw us looking at a nest it would give away the location and the nestlings would be susceptible to attack.
Female Great-tailed Grackle
This juvenile Great-tailed Grackle has not grown its "great tail" yet...
Greater Roadrunner in breeding plumage
Green Heron on the hunt
We fell in love with the colorful and charismatic Green Jays!

The Groove-billed Ani is a subtropical bird found at the border and is a member of the cuckoo family.

Hooded Oriole nest- see the little ones looking out toward the right?
Male Hooded Oriole close by
Golden-fronted Woodpecker reaches the U. S. only in the brush lands and open woodlands of Texas and Oklahoma.
Long-billed Thrasher is a resident of brushy habitats and only found in southern Texas and eastern Mexico.

The Curve-billed Thrasher is a common bird of the arid Southwest.

 Northern Cardinal
This little guy is a baby Northern Mockingbird. You can see they start out with a "big" attitude to go along with their gape :-)

The proud parent...
The Olive Sparrow loves to bathe!
The Plain Chachalaca is large chicken-like bird of Mexico & Central America, only reaching the U.S. in southern Texas.

Female and male Scissor-tailed Flycatchers- notice the female has nesting material in her bill.
Spotted Sandpiper in breeding plumage
We saw our first Stilt Sandpiper on Dauphin Island, Alabama a few weeks before this sighting. Our first bird was not in breeding plumage. We were lucky enough to see a flock of 20-30 Stilt Sandpipers in breeding plumage with Wilson's Phalaropes when we were visiting Estero Llano State Park.

Wilson's Phalarope coming into breeding plumage

Obviously there is a lot of competition going on during breeding season. We caught the following territorial battle going on between Stilt Sandpipers....

I guess they made their point...
Immature Swainson's Hawk
We were lucky enough to see this singing Tropical Parula at one of the local county parks that lies on the Rio Grande. This bird is a Mexican rarity. Coincidentally, we were told by the local authorities present in the park a major gun battle had occurred only hours before on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande.

Verdin singing away
White-winged Dove
We were surprised to see this immature Woodstork with Roseate Spoonbills at the Sabal Palm Sanctuary.
Yellow-bellied Flycatchers are members of the Empidonax family, a very difficult group of birds to identify. The Yellow-bellied Flycatchers' yellow underparts distinguish it from the other eastern Empidonax flycatchers.

We saw the Yellow-billed Cuckoos beginning to collect nesting material.
Immature Yellow-crowned Night-Heron with a Little Blue Heron in the background.
This immature Zone-tailed Hawk was of great interest to the local birding enthusiasts. A single family is known to nest on this part of the Rio Grande River.

Our first Desert Tortoise in the wild: We were fortunate to see three separate Desert Tortoise while visiting the Lower Rio Grande Valley. 

One of the Park Rangers was a reptile specialist and said this juvenile (estimated to be 2 years old) was the first young tortoise he had seen in years.

THE END.....
The World is Full of Beauty & Wonder,

Turtle & Hawk

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