Foam Lake Birding o. 144


No. 144

            This past week we had the pleasure of taking some friends of ours from Foam Lake on a birding tour at the Llano Grande State Park.  We saw a good variety of water birds including a Roseate Spoonbill that was close to the viewing station.  To somebody who has done very little birding the spoonbill with its rose/pink goose sized body is quite spectacular.  The usually reliable sighting of the Paraque was not to be as it was not in its usual roosting place.  As compensation we did see a large twelve foot alligator floating lazily on the far side of a small pond. 

            One of the more noticeable birds seen during our excursion was the Black Necked Stilt.  The stilt is a striking black and white crow sized wading bird that is unmistakable in the field.  The long slender black neck, long needle like black bill and almost grotesquely long coral pink legs add to its distinctive look.  In flight the legs protrude a long way back giving the bird a distinctive flight profile.  The name, stilt, is very appropriate as the bird does look as if it is walking on stilts.  Although, normally very vocal these were silent. 

            The stilts are common throughout the southern part of the USA but can also be seen occasionally in some extreme southern areas of the four western provinces in Canada.  They are, however, common only in the marsh lands along the Trans-Canada Highway near Brooks, Alberta.  One summer, a few years back when my wife and I were returning home from Calgary we saw a very gangly juvenile running in a mud flat along the highway on the outskirts of Brooks itself.  A year or two later we saw a flock of several dozen adults feeding in a stubble field along the very same highway just east of Brooks during a late spring snow storm.  For those interested, a stop at the Brooks marshlands might prove productive for seeing a Black Necked Stilt. 

            This week’s photos of a pair of Black Necked Stilts were taken at the Llano Grande State Park when we were there with our friends from Foam Lake.  I got a very good shot of the Roseate Spoonbill also, but that photo will be seen only on my web page in a future article. 

Foam Lake Birding No. 143


No. 143

            Spring is definitely here.  Not only are the trees leafed out but the flowers are in bloom and insects are everywhere.  In the birding world, many of our winter visitors are headed north for the summer.  The Orange Crowned Warbler that was fighting with its image in our car’s windshield is gone.  Either something ate it or it is headed north to the Boreal Forest.   I hope it is the latter.  Red Winged Blackbirds, absent in the winter, are back from Mexico and are dominating the feeders.  For a few days we had a male Ruby Throated Hummingbird visiting our feeder.  It too has returned from the tropics and is headed north and quite possibly to Canada.  The ducks are still here, but if the past is any indication they will be headed north to the prairies in a few weeks. 

            Birds sometimes provide a little bit of excitement and this week has been one of those times.  My wife had been doing some puttering in the yard and was in and out of our shop/shed leaving the door open all the while.  In one of her brief absences a Chachalaca decided to check out the shop where my wife surprized it (and herself) when she returned.  My wife used a broom trying to usher it outside but with no immediate luck as the bird kept flying at ceiling level and complaining loudly.  Eventually, the bird got tired and landed on the floor near the door.  Here it “saw the light” as it were and flew out in a hurry.  It joined the rest of the flock behind the shed and squawked loudly for several minutes seemingly complaining about its recent ordeal.  Bird brain? 

            This area of Texas has a plethora of wading birds, so this week I am featuring a family of waders called ibises.  There are only three of these chicken - sized (small chicken) ibises in North America and all are found only in the deep south of the USA.  Two, the White Faced and White are common here; the Glossy is a rarity in Texas but is common in Florida.  All three have long down curved bills which they use to search for food in shallow waters and freshly irrigated fields.  The White Ibis is all white and is unmistakeable; the White Faced Ibis is all black and easy to separate from the White.  The Glossy and White Faced are almost identical and only a very experienced birder would venture to determine which is which in the field.  The White Faced has some white markings at the base of the bill which are really only visible during breeding season.  The Glossy is no glossier than the White Faced so some very subtle markings must be noted.  Fortunately, the Glossy is so rare around here that one just assumes that a black ibis is the White Faced. 

            I took both photos just this past week.  I got the White Ibis at Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco and the White Faced at the Santa Anna Federal Nature Preserve along the Rio Grande River.   Both places are close to our trailer park.

Foam Lake Birding No. 142


No. 142

            We have had a month of rainy weather.  Although the rain was badly needed, it is very nice to see the sun come out daily with temperatures in the 30s.  The flowering trees and shrubs, especially the citrus trees, are in full bloom.  On quiet evenings the smell of citrus flowers is everywhere. 

            One thing about winter months down here is that this is the time of year when we get most of our rare strays from Mexico.  These rare events cause quite a stir in the birding world because this corner of Texas represents the very northern limits of many Mexican animals, birds and plants.  I have written about common Texas specialities such as the Great Kiskadee and Chachalaca but, today, I want to spend some time writing about the rare ones that have occurred since we have been coming here.   

            In past articles I have written about the Black Vented Oriole and Muscovy Duck, and most recently, the Crimson Collared Grosbeak and Golden Crowned Warbler.  Some other strays from Mexico like the Blue Mockingbird, Elegant Trogon, Red Billed Pigeon, Glossy Ibis, Rose Throated Becard, Northern Jacana, Smooth Billed Ani, Bronzed Cowbird, Blue Bunting and White Throated Thrush (formerly White Throated Robin) have been seen within a few miles from our trailer park.  Except for the first four we have been fortunate enough to have seen the rest and have taken photos of the last two. 

            I took both pictures last year after lots of patient waiting for the birds to show up.  We had waited for the Blue Bunting at a small pond where it regularly came to drink and bathe.  The bird had other plans and showed up on the road behind us.  Luckily it was not shy and I managed to get several shots of it at a long distance resulting in a substandard photo.  The male bunting looks like a small black sparrow that gives off blue reflections in good light.  The White Throated Thrush was getting a drink from a water feature.  It drank for only a few minutes but I managed to get several pictures of decent quality.  Many birders had been waiting long hours trying to get a glimpse of it with no or limited success so, we felt lucky for the seeing the bird after waiting for only one hour.  The thrush looks like a small washed out version of the familiar Robin back home.