Erin (my wife and adventure partner) and I attended the Texas Ornithological Society’s (TOS) 2017 Winter Meeting located in the Rio Grande Valley of far South Texas. This trip was filled with birding, catching up with birder and naturalist friends, presentations, and traveling along and among the tropical frontier of Texas. And, of course, having Erin with me made it even more fun than a usual exploration.
Our weekend itinerary included field trips called How Low Can You Go, Winged Wonders of Weslaco, and Zapata County Century Club. I’ll visit more about these trips during the respective blogs (3 total, all will be linked to one another when completed). We ended the weekend trip on a very high note, which I’ll keep as a surprise for now.
Before I review the first day of the trip, I want to thank our gracious AirBNB host, Rose, who provided us a wonderful room at a very reasonable rate. If you want a nice, central place to stay while in South Texas, I recommend you check out A Warm Home in the Heart of the Valley.
Our first field trip, How Low Can You Go, took us to The Lennox Foundation’s Southmost Preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy. Byron Stone and Justin LeClaire provided guide service for the field trip. Preserve Manager, Max Pons, got us signed in and joined us for a morning of birding. We spent nearly three and half hours hiking through the preserve. I was able to observe a total of 42 species while an additional four species were seen by other group members. Highlights of the morning included Altamira Oriole, “Western-type” Flycatcher (a complex ID challenge composed of Pacific-slope and Cordilleran Flycatchers), Ash-throated Flycatcher, Gray Catbird, Nashville Warbler, White-tailed Hawk, and Horned Lark. In addition to the great birds, we spent some time with a Gulf Coast Ribbon Snake and a beautiful Texas Indigo Snake.
I took a couple of interesting notes from the morning of birding at Southmost Preserve.
- The Valley supports low density wintering populations of several bird species I usually only expect in the Hill Country during migration and the breeding season (i.e. Nashville Warbler, Ash-throated Flycatcher, etc.)
- The Western Flycatcher is an extremely difficult identity challenge, basically impossible without hearing it vocalize. Unfortunately, our bird never made a sound. The choices for the “Western-type Flycatcher” are Cordilleran and Pacific-slope Flycatchers. Cordilleran Flycatchers are migratory and occur as local breeders in the high elevations of West Texas mountains; far away from the Rio Grande Valley. Pacific-slope Flycatcher has not yet been confirmed by the Texas Bird Records Committee in Texas. The Pacific-slope Flycatcher could very well might be found in the state as a vagrant or overwintering species but, because they aren’t usually vocal outside of breeding season (Texas is a good way from their breeding range), it is a very difficult thing to conclusively prove.
Old Port Isabel Road.
After Southmost, we drove out along Boca Chica Boulevard onto the beach and south to the mouth of the Rio Grande. During this portion of the field trip we noted many wading birds and shore birds. We saw two Reddish Egrets, a state threatened species, in the shallow wetlands leading towards the beach. Reddish Egrets come in two color phases, white and reddish. Most of the birds of the lower Texas coast are the white phase. Additionally, these egrets have a characteristic hunting behavior where they are observed erratically chasing, dancing, and flapping while in pursuit of prey.
Along the surf we were able to study small plovers and gulls. Here is a complete list of species observed at Boca Chica. On the way out of Boca Chica, Erin and I kept our eyes open for falcons (hoping for Aplomado) and were caught behind the group while studying a nearby Merlin (North America’s second smallest falcon only slightly bigger than American Kestrel).
We eventually caught back up with the birding group and headed out to Old Port Isabel Road in search of Aplomado Falcons. After nearly an hour of searching, we were running out time and were preparing to head back to McAllen. After a brief powwow, the group agreed that we could afford 30 more minutes of birding. It was a wise decision, shortly afterwards Justin LeClaire spotted a pair falcons on an artificial nesting platform several hundred yards from the roadside. Good but distant looks were had by all.