Zapata County Century Club
The field trip for Day 3 was called the Zapata County Century Club. The aim for this field trip was to see as many species of bird as possible within Zapata County, hopefully getting everybody to 100 species (Century Club). The guide for the trip was a buddy of mine and a strong naturalist, Anthony Hewetson (or Fat Tony as many people call him). Fat Tony is a notorious Century Club competitor having nearly registered 100 or more species in almost every county in Texas (there are 254 counties in the Lone Star State). In addition to Fat Tony, the group was co-lead by my good friend and fellow naturalist, Drew Harvey.
Falcon State Park
Since the field trip would begin at Falcon State Park (about 1.5 hours away), Erin and I decided to drive out the night before and stay at one of the park’s screen cabins. This way we could sleep in the next morning while the remainder of the group made the early morning drive.
Falcon State Park is split by the Starr-Zapata County line and, unfortunately, our cabin was located well within Starr County. So, when I was stirred the next morning by the anxious calls of Great-horned Owl and Common Pauraques, I was unable to count them towards the day’s Trip List. By the time Erin and I packed our gear and drove across the park to the the Zapata County side, the nocturne had ended and the dawn chorus had begun with Northern Cardinals, Curve-billed Thrashers, and a Northern Mockingbird.
Fat Tony had the group begin by birding the area around the camp restrooms. This served the dual purpose of getting the day’s list started and to allow group members a short break after the long drive. A few usual suspects were counted before a beautiful Osprey was heard chirping overhead. Next we scanned Falcon Lake. Tony declared that we needed to pick out several lake specialties to have a shot at pulling off a high number of species for the day. We immediately ticked off some decent lake birds including: Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, Snowy and Great Egret, Tricolored Heron, American White Pelican, Greater Yellowlegs, and a Belted Kingfisher.
Zapata Public Boat Ramp
The park provided only limited looks onto the lake so Fat Tony began to investigate other opportunities. He discovered a publicly accessible site just outside the town of Zapata. The site is a park and public boat ramp but I didn’t notice a name nor sign. At the parking area we immediately picked up Cactus Wren, Black-throated Sparrows, and Great Kiskadee. Due to a slowing pace of new species, we decided to divide and concur. Fat Tony asked Erin and me to scan the lake while the remainder of the group took a hike in the upland shrubby habitat. After a bit of scanning in fairly windy conditions, I was able to find a few interesting birds through my spotting scope. Green Kingfisher, Spotted Sandpiper, Say’s Phoebe, and Little Blue Heron were highlights. We called the remainder of the group over to get looks at our finds. As they approached, a pair of Greater White-fronted Goose honked by overhead.
Bravo Park/Zapata Library
We next checked out Bravo Park and the area around the Zapata Library. Of course we hoped for White-collared Seedeaters but dipped. Erin and I joined the group a little late after refueling and grabbing a quick lunch in town. This caused us a Common Gallinule the group picked up within a marshy pond. The only new bird for us at this site was a Vermilion Flycatcher that Drew Harvey put us on.
San Ygnacio Bird Sanctuary
The final stop of the field trip was at San Ygnacio Bird Sanctuary. This site is also known to support White-collared Seedeaters but whether due to timing (afternoon) or being crowded by House Sparrows and Red-winged Blackbirds, the seedeaters just didn’t show. We worked the site for well over an hour. We didn’t put together a very robust list at the site but it was nice to enjoy a quite lunch in shade by the Rio Grande. A female Brown-headed Cowbird gave the group an opportunity to study her subtle and drab patterns that seemed all too unfamiliar to most of us.
We ended the field trip with 60 species and a good amount of time in the field with a couple of my favorite naturalist friends. However, Erin and I had big plans for the drive home. We were headed to Laredo to see about a kingfisher.
The Pursuit of Amazon Kingfisher
We arrived at the little park on Zacate Creek a little over an hour after departing from our friends at San Ygnacio. The site was unfamiliar and we didn’t do a good job scouting where the coveted Amazon Kingfisher had been seen regularly. I scanned the wide birth of the river from a point of the creek confluence. Nothing much going on there. We then started walking up a path paralleling the creek upstream. We noted a lot of good looking kingfisher habitat and even had our hearts briefly stopped by a beautiful Green Kingfisher posted of the water’s edge. We were taken aback by the limestone falls that seem to originate out of nowhere along the creek bed. We fancied a Black Phoebe quietly bobbing its tail up and a loud Ringed Kingfisher rattled loudly overhead. Then, as if materializing from our mind’s desire, a large crested green kingfisher flew within feet of us along the falls and landed at the lip. We had ourselves an Amazon Kingfisher. Erin and I, smiling ear-to-ear, and quietly celebrated our luck and determination. Besides dipping on seedeaters, this year’s TOS Winter Meeting could not have gone better.