Friday, 29 November 2019

The Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival

Finally, after 8 years, I was able to go to the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival.  In previous years I alternately went to either Cape May, NJ or The Yellow Rails and Rice birding Festival.  As it happened, the two ABA rarities,(and Lifers), that were reported prior to the festival, a Yellow-green Vireo and a Northern Jacana, had moved on.  However, one of the main reasons for the trip this year was to go to King Ranch and finally get to see a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl.  Of course there were other great birds to see along the way, including Aplomado Falcon, Morelett’s Seedeater and a host of south Texas specialty birds and, of course, birders.




The first day I spent at Estero Llano Grande State Park, catching up with Huck Hutchens, the guide who helped me twice during my 2012 Big Year.  He does bird walks that are both educational and entertaining, a few times a week and I joined him and a group of birders from the festival for a few hours of entertaining commentary and a lot of great birds.

Eastern Screech Owl,(McCall’s):



Vermillion Flycatcher:


White-faced Ibis:



Day Two was the day I had been looking forward to since I began birding.  I had heard of King Ranch and the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl.  I’ve made numerous trips to Texas over the years, but never had been there at the right time to go to King Ranch when the owls were present.  A group of us left on a bus at 6:00am and arrived just after sunrise in dense fog.  We could see nothing out the windows.



But not long after, the sun came out and the fog burned off and we were out listening and looking for the Pygmy Owl.  
It wasn’t long before we were hearing two of them calling on opposite sides of the road.  A few of us tried to locate the one calling on one side of the road while the rest of the group eventually caught sight of one on the other side.  The three of us ran over, hoping we didn’t miss it, but it sat around, and gave us great views for about half an hour before we needed to move on.  It was a new bird for my ABA Life List, though Sue and I had heard one when we were in Panama a few years ago.


Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl: ABA 683



Pygmy Owl from behind, with it’s fake eyes:



Later we were all lucky enough to have a Sprague’s Pipit land practically at our feet for a great photo op.




White-tailed Hawk:



My only other Lifer,(1135), of the trip was a Mexican Duck, newly added on eBird as a separate species.  Hopefully it will be added to the ABA List in the near future.  This was down at the Rio Grand River in Salineno at the base of the Falcon Dam.  It was a cold and rainy day and I didn’t spend much time there, but I did stop in at the Salineno Wildlife Preserve, where I saw all three of their specialty Orioles.

Mexican Duck:


Audubon’s Oriole:



Altamira Oriole:


Hooded Oriole:



Lots of other birders from the festival were there and while we were watching the orioles a Olive Sparrow came out from the bushes.



The next day I went over to South Padre Island and was treated to a fine show of migrating songbirds, including male and female Summer Tanagers.




On the way back to Harlingen I stopped along route 100 for a look at the Aplomado Falcon.  I got two for the price of one!






I spent my last full day back at Salineno, looking once more for Morelett’s Seedeater.  Before even looking for the seedeater I spotted a Gray Hawk.



But that was all we were seeing.  After a long wait, a few of the other birders went exploring and found a pair of Barn Owls in a cliff wall nest.  I left the seedeater watch and found the hole in the wall where the owls were peeking out.





Luckily, once I came back from viewing the Barn Owls, I wasn’t too late for the seedeater.  There was woman there looking for the seedeater as well, and we continued the seedeater watch together, and we were lucky to have a Green Kingfisher land practically at our feet.



It wasn’t long after that I heard the seedeater chip note.  We followed the sound and eventually found a female seedeater who posed for a couple of minutes so I could get my first photos of a Morelett’s Seedeater.



I had a great time at the RGVBF and look forward to returning again some year.












































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