Friday, June 7, 2013

Day 5 of Texas Birding Trip: South Padre Island, Resaca De La Palma State Park, & Estero Llano Grande NWR

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were common fixtures on the boardwalks at the Birding Center of South Padre Island, TX, 4/17/2013.
The 5th day of my Texas birding trip (April 17, 2013) brought me to three locations all very near my headquarters town of Los Fresnos.  All three locations are considered important birding areas and have been specifically preserved as sanctuaries by the World Birding Center: The Birding Center (South Padre Island), Resaca De Palma State Park (Brownsville), and Estero Llano Grande State Park (Weslaco). This last location was actually an afterthought near the end of the day when I felt I needed to visit one more place.
A Yellow-crowned Heron hunting in the wetlands of the Birding Center of South Padre Island, TX, 4/17/2013. 
Location #1 - South Padre Island
I got up early in hopes to beat traffic to drive to my first destination - The Birding Center on South Padre Island. I heard this was a good place, but I couldn't picture in my mind what it would entail especially on such a commercialized and busy tourist area. I was pleasantly surprised to  find a great habitat that has been preserved on the Gulf side of the island. Also adjacent to the Birding Center was the equally impressive Convention Center. Between the two properties was a very nice extensive boardwalk system that led from the buildings over the wetlands out to the sea.. The only thing that puzzled me was that the boardwalks were not joined, yet at places ran next to each other.  My guess was that because the Birding Center charged a fee to access their boardwalks, and the Convention Center did not, the Birding Center did not want visitors to be able to cross onto their property from the Convention Center, thus losing the fee revenue. Nevertheless, both were worth visiting as between the two areas I identified at least 60 different species in a matter of a couple of hours without a lot of effort.
A Sandwich Tern flew over the parking lot at The Birding Center, South Padre Island, TX; 4/17/2013.
 Walking from my car across the parking lot to the doors of the Birding Center, I saw no less than 17 different species, among them lots of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (Top of page) which were flying overhead and landing on the property near the building. Most of these 17 were common species such as European Starlings, Mourning Doves and Red-winged Blackbirds, but also included a Clay-colored Sparrow, Gull-billed and Sandwich Terns (Above) and a Bronzed Cowbird.

A Clapper Rail appeared out of the thicket and walked across a sandbar in clear view,  The Birding Center of South Padre Island, TX, 4/17/2013.
Once I paid my fee and accessed the boardwalks behind the building, there was lots to see, including my first two Lifers of the day: A Clapper Rail (Above) and a Least Bittern (no pic). I was leaning on the side of the boardwalk handrail, concentrating on a Clapper Rail clattering in the thicket, and waited patiently hoping I to get a glimpse of it, but as it was noisily clapping away, another one appeared out of the thicket on the other side of the boardwalk and stayed in view for more than a minute, giving me plenty of pictures as it crept across the sand bar to reach another thicket. While I was trailing the Clapper, a Least Bittern suddenly flew out of the brush for a few feet and disappeared faster than I could get a bead on it with my camera.
A Tri-colored Heron, The Birding Center of South Padre Island, TX, 4/17/2013.
After about an hour on the Birding Center's boardwalks, I ventured out to the main road and walked over to the adjacent Convention Center where I spent another hour birding their trees filled with migrants and more boardwalks. The complete list of the 60 birds I found on South Padre Island is below.

South Padre Island Bird Report for 4/17/2013
Total Species: 60
Lifers: 3 (Least Bittern, Clapper Rail, Gull-billed Tern)
FOYs: 10 (including the 3 Lifers)
Birds Identified:  American Coot, Baltimore Oriole, Black Skimmers, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Black-necked Stilts, Blackpoll Warbler, Blue-winged Teals, Bronzed Cowbird, Chipping Sparrow, Clapper Rail,  Clay-colored Sparrow, Common Moorhen, Common Yellowthroat, Double-crested Cormorants, Eurasian Collared Dove, European Starlings, Great Blue Heron, Great Egrets, Greater Yellowlegs, Great-tailed Grackles, Gull-billed Terns, House Finches, Indigo Bunting, Laughing Gulls, Least Bittern, Little Blue Heron, Mourning Dove,  Nashville Warbler, Neotropic Cormorants, Northern Mockingbirds, Northern Shovelers, Orchard Oriole, Osprey, Ovenbird, Pied-billed Grebes, Prothonotary Warbler (Above), Red-breasted Merganser, Reddish Egret, Red-eyed Vireo, Redheads, Red-winged Blackbirds, Ring-billed Gulls, Ring-necked Ducks, Rock Doves, Roseate Spoonbills, Royal Terns,  Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderlings, Sandwich Terns, Savannah Sparrow, Short-billed Dowitcher, Song Sparrow, Sora Rail (heard), Spotted Sandpiper, Swainson's Thrush, Tree Swallows, Tri-colored Heron, White Ibis,  Willets, Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

More photos of South Padre Island Birds:
Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Convention Center, South Padre Island, TX, 4/17/2013.

Indigo Bunting, Convention Center, South Padre Island, TX, 4/17/2013.

Female Orchard Oriole, Convention Center, South Padre Island, TX, 4/17/2013.

Osprey, Birding Center of South Padre Island, TX, 4/17/2013.

Pied-billed Grebe, Birding Center of South Padre Island, TX, 4/17/2013.
A Reddish Egret, the Convention Center of South Padre Island, TX, 4/17/2013.
Short-billed Dowitcher. The Birding Center of South Padre Island, TX, 4/17/2013.
Prothonotary Warbler in the trees near the Convention Center, South Padre Island, TX, 4/17/2013.
Red-eyed Vireo, Convention Center, South Padre Island, TX, 4/17/2013.
Red-winged Blackbird, Convention Center, South Padre Island, TX, 4/17/2013.
BIF - Tri-colored Heron,  The Birding Center of South Padre Island, TX, 4/17/2013.
Location #2 - Resaca De La Palma State Park
After departing South Padre Island, I drove less than an hour just west of Brownsville, to Resaca De Palma State Park, which is designated as a "World Birding Center" through the cooperation of local Texas and federal land management agencies. This area is known for the presence of the White-tailed Kite and the Hook-billed Kite, both which would have been Lifers for me. I walked nearly every trail of the park but struck out on these Kites. I was told that there were many of them present just a couple of days ago along with hundreds of Mississippi Kites. I did manage to see one lone Mississippi Kite (which was not a Lifer for me). I also struck out on another potential Lifer - the Northern Beardless Tyrannulet was nesting in the area, but I could not find this little critter either. My list for this park is below...

Resaca De La Palma State Park
Total Species: 29
Lifers: 1 (Brown-crested Flycatchers)
First in U.S.: 2 (including Lifer & Couch's Kingbird)
Species Identified: Altamira Oriole, American Coots, Bewick's Wren, Black Vulture, Blue-winged Teals, Bronzed Cowbirds, Brown-crested Flycatchers, Buff-bellied Hummingbirds, Couch's Kingbird, Crested Caracara, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Gray Catbird, Great Egrets, Great Kiskadee, Greater Yellowlegs, Great-tailed Grackles, Green Jays, Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Laughing Gulls, Long-billed Thrasher, Mourning Doves, Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, Orchard Oriole,  Spotted Sandpiper, Turkey Vulture, White-crowned Sparrow, White-tipped Doves, White-winged Doves.

Photos from Resaca De La Palma SP
A Great Kiskadee, Resaca De La Palma State Park, TX; 4/17/2013.
Long-billed Thrasher, Resaca De La Palma State Park, TX; 4/17/2013.

Mexican Blue-wing butterfly, Resaca De La Palma State Park, TX; 4/17/2013.

Location #3 - Estero Llano Grande State Park
After spending most of the day at Resaca De La Palma, I left disappointed that I didn't even manage 30 different species. It was already past 5:30 PM and I felt I still had some birding left in me for the day. I was very near another World Birding Center Location, Estero llano Grande State Park, only 40 miles away. I decided that I would check it out, even though the managers at Resaca De a Palma told me that the Visitors Center would be closed.

Just two of the many Fulvous Whistling Ducks at Estero Llano Grande SP; 4/17/2013.

When I arrived already nearing 7 PM, I found the Parking area open and the trails accessible. I am glad I decided to come here as it is an awesome place to bird with large ponds, wood and grasslands, and hummingbird feeding stations. As I neared the first pond directly behind the Visitors center, I saw that it was filled with water birds including a large contingent of Fulvous Whistling Ducks (Above), for which I was grateful, since the only other Fulvous Whistlers I have seen were at a great distance with blurry pictures at Anahuac NWR, three days ago. At the hummer feeders, I saw three different hummers making frequent visits: Ruby-throated, Buff-bellied and Rufous. After spending an hour at this park, I identified 45 species and left wishing that I had more time. I wished that I would have reversed my itinerary and came here before Resaca de la Palma.

Estero Llano Grande State Park
Total Species: 45
Lifers: None (I thought I saw a Least Grebe, but it turned out to be an Eared Grebe)
Birds Identified: American Avocets, American Coots, Baird's Sandpipers, Barn Swallows, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks,  Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Black-necked Stilts, Blue-winged Teals,  Buff-bellied Hummingbirds, Cattle Egret, Common Ground Dove, Cinnamon Teal, Common Moorhen, Common Yellowthroat, Eared Grebe, Fulvous Whistling Ducks, Gadwall, Great Egret, Great Kiskadee, Great-tailed Grackles, Green-winged Teals, Killdeer, Laughing Gulls, Least Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitchers, Mississippi Kite, Mottled Ducks, Mourning Doves, Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, Northern Pintails, Northern rough-winged Swallows, Northern Shovelers, Pied-billed Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser,  Red-winged Blackbirds, Roseate Spoonbills, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Ruddy Ducks, Rufous Hummingbird, Solitary Sandpiper, Tree Swallows, White Ibis,  White-winged Doves, Wilson's Phalaropes.

Photos from Estero Llano Grande State Park

An American Avocet gracefully glided by, Estero Llano Grande SP; 4/17/2013.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Estero Llano Grande SP; 4/17/2013.
A pair of Cinnamon Teals, Estero Llano Grande SP; 4/17/2013.

Great Kiskadee, Estero Llano Grande SP; 4/17/2013.
Eared Grebe, Estero Llano Grande SP; 4/17/2013.
I thought this a Least Grebe when I photographed it, but the bill seems too thick. The bright yellow eye fooled me, but then I realized it was an Eared Grebe, molting between its non breeding plumage to its breeding plumage, Estero Llano Grande SP; 4/17/2013.

Mottled Ducks, Estero Llano Grande SP; 4/17/2013.
A juvenile White Ibis, Estero Llano Grande SP; 4/17/2013.
A flotilla of Wilson Phalaropes, Estero Llano Grande SP; 4/17/2013.
Estero llano Grande State Park was an awesome place to go birding - large ponds, grassland and woods all served as prime living and visiting habitats for migrants and for residential birds alike. My biggest regret was not getting here earlier in the day. I probably could have spent an entire day here - a highly recommended location for birders.

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