Texas Pelagic Trip & Rio Grande Valley Birding, 17-18 July
Thought I'd post a belated report on the pelagic trip out of South Padre Island on July 17th. What a great trip! These days it's rare that I am able to spend a full weekend birding, rarer still that I travel a substantial distance to do so. Parental responsibilities tend to limit such activities and keep me close to home. So I was really looking forward to this trip, and as it turned out, I was not disappointed. We saw some good birds, and encountered some awesome marine creatures that made the trip unforgettable. Afterward I visited some Rio Grande Valley sites before heading for home.
The Gulf of Mexico is off the main migratory path of most pelagic species, and I had been told (repeatedly) not to expect much. Texas pelagic trips typically produce very low numbers compared to similar trips off the east and west coasts, and this trip was no exception - we had less than twenty individual birds that would qualify as truly pelagic, including 5 Masked Boobies, about 8 Band-rumped Storm-Petrels (a lifer for me), a Greater Shearwater (only the 16th state record?), and 2-3 Bridled Terns. Actually, my impression was that there were plenty of birds, it was just that the vast majority were terns, and they were concentrated over shallower waters and around shrimp boats. It was only when we were far offshore, over deeper water, that the birds became very few and far between.
The Greater Shearwater was clearly "the bird of the day." It was found far offshore, associating with a school of tuna that were churning up the water in a feeding frenzy. This bird REALLY liked our boat, and stayed with us for quite a while, giving us no shortage of good photo opportunities:
About birding in the summer heat...yes, it can be uncomfortable, particularly at midday, but the birding can be just as good as at any other season. I've had great experiences birding the Rio Grande Valley in summer, and if the locals want to spend the whole season indoors that's their loss.
My last stop was the Nature Conservancy's Chihuahua Woods Preserve near Mission. Hook-billed Kites had recently nested there, and I was hoping they might still be in the area. I didn't see the kite, but as soon as I got to the gate I spotted a Groove-billed Ani perched in a tree ahead, and just past the ani I had a male Verdin and a Northern Beardless Tyrannulet vying for my attention. The tyrannulet responded very inquisitively to my pishing, allowing me to get some nice photos:
Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Tricolored Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Harris's Hawk, White-tailed Hawk, Northern Bobwhite, Killdeer, Laughing Gull, Black Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, White-winged Dove, Inca Dove, Common Ground-Dove, White-tipped Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Groove-billed Ani, Greater Roadrunner, Common Nighthawk, hummingbird sp., Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Couch's Kingbird, Western Kingbird, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, White-eyed Vireo, Northern Mockingbird, Long-billed Thrasher, Curve-billed Thrasher, Bewick's Wren, Verdin, Horned Lark, House Sparrow, Botteri's Sparrow, Cassin's Sparrow, Olive Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Meadowlark, Great-tailed Grackle, Bronzed Cowbird.