Lifers indicated in bold
I didn't do any real birding until I got to McAllen even though I tried for longspurs at the airport, and didn't even wait to get off the plane before I got new birds in the form of Great Kiskadee, Eastern Meadowlark, and Great-tailed Grackle (no Boat-tailed or Common this far south, so the only confusion would be with cowbirds). Shortly after, we got Ringed Kingfisher and Brewer's Blackbird
On our first full day, we made the long trip to Salineno in Starr County. Shortly after sitting down at the feeders despite my insistance on looking for river birds, we racked up Green Jay, Altamira Oriole, Ladder-backed and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Black-crested Titmouse, and Sharp-shinned Hawk. Along the river, I added American White Pelican, Green Kingfisher, White-tipped Dove, Greater White-fronted Goose, Orange-crowned Warbler, Bewick's Wren, Mexican Duck (a subspecies of Mallard), Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and my most wanted bird, a male White-collared Seedeater providing excellent views. Unfortunately, the seedeater disappeared before I could get a photo. As we were leaving, I had heard an Audubon's Oriole, but my dad wouldn't let me count it because he didn't see it and wouldn't let me count "heard only" birds. The problem with this rule is there is no rule like it in the rules of the American Birding Association. There is literally no rule in the ABA Area Big Year recording rules that says "someone else has to see the bird and confirm your identification" or that "the birder has to see the bird." ABA Recording Rule 1C states "'Encounter' means seen and/or heard live and not remotely." It was "within the prescribed area when encountered" meaning within the prescribed area when observed, the encounter occurred within the prescribed time period (1A, see my caption for the Black Phoebe picture for an example of the observer not needing to be in the same area), it was on the ABA checklist (Rule 2), and lastly it was "alive, wild, and unrestrained when encountered" (Rule 3). In conclusion, it counted.
My dad had to be on a work call, so while he waited in the parking lot, my mom and I went ahead to look for birds, while the latter and I fought about what I could count and what I could not. I had seen a Curve-billed Thrasher up the trail, and while she refused to let me count it, I did anyway because as I mentioned while talking about Salineno, my parents don't make the rules, the ABA does.
Later, we went to the National Butterfly center where we got a lot of new birds, but also confirmation that Audubon's Oriole would count (despite this rule not even mattering)
Time was running out, and I wanted to find a Sprague's Pipit at Anzalduas Park as well as the Granjeno Burrowing Owls, but unfortunately we couldn't get in and the owls were not showing. We went home after that.
I was really excited about going to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, as it is one of the best places for birding in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Despite some minor arguments on the trail, I got a very good list including many Rio Grande valley birds I had missed, as well as a close encounter with a Nine-banded Armadillo.
Next we tried for the Hammond's Flycatcher and Tropical Parula at Estero Llano Grande State Park. While I couldn't find either rare bird, I still got some good birds out of this stop. These include Clay-colored Thrush, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Northern Pintail, Common Pauraque, and Tropical Kingbird. We also got good photos of some other birds I had previously seen this trip.
My dad and I had gone to Quinta Mazatlan to look for the Blue Bunting (ANOTHER no show, I might add), then to pick up mom to go to Anzalduas Park again to try for pipits again. We got into the park, but we were not allowed on the dike that overlooked the field they usually in (sad reacts only). I wanted to go back to the hotel, but my mom insisted on going to the water despite my disappointment. After getting Lesser Scaup after fighting over our next action (I had to begrudgingly cut my losses with the Sprague's), we decided to go back to Granjeno to look for the Burrowing Owls. As we stood atop the levee, the presence of a border patrol officer made me uneasy. After a few minutes of waiting for anything (still hoping for a pipit), I chickened out and insisted that we cut our losses with the owls. In the end, it was not the clock that beat me, it was my own cowardice. As I would find out later, I didn't have reason to be scared for my safety at all. A recent fact check of one of Donald Trump's tweets stated that the crime rates in U.S. border counties are actually lower than many similar inland counties. Oh well, my irrational fears cost me a chance for Great Gray Owl in 2017, and in 2018 they had cost me a chance for Sprague's Pipit. While doing non-bird related stuff that evening, I heard screeching and chattering that did not resemble a grackle or a Brewer's Blackbird. Suddenly, a huge flock of Green Parakeets flew in with the icterids. I had finally found the parakeet roost I spent the past two days looking for!
Checklists: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S41654652, ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S41656552, ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S41657393
I wanted to go to Laguna Atascosa first so I could get on the early tram and have time for Tamaulipas Crow and Snowy Plover on the way to Brownsville, but as most of my plans on this trip, this did not go as planned. My parents insisted on going to South Padre Island first for shorebirding, which I consented to thinking I could get the plovers on the way. I was wrong: the pullout area for the plovers was on the left side of the road and we could not stop to look for them, so we continued to SPI. Despite missing a chance for two lifers, I still got a lot out of the Convention center, mainly shorebirds and waterfowl, but also Reddish Egret, Marsh Wren, and a lingering Scarlet Tanager. Next we WERE going to try for the Tamaulipas Crow at the Sea Ranch Marina, but like with the Port Isabel boat ramp, we missed the turnaround on our way to Laguna Atascosa
Moving on to Laguna Atascosa, I silently accepted that Tamaulipas Crow would be another miss of the trip as we headed to try for Mountain Plover outside the refuge (again, nothing). Fortunately, the morning tour of the Bayside Drive had seen an Aplomado Falcon that morning, which greatly increased my chances of seeing one. We hadn't even gotten to the wildlife drive when we had seen a Greater Roadrunner, then shortly after a herd of Nilgai.
For those who don't know mammals very well, Nilgai are a species of antelope native to the Indian Subcontinent but were introduced to south Texas for hunting purposes. Without any native predators in the area, the Nilgai population has exploded and now they are somewhat of a nuisance.
As the tram continued on, we got a good variety of birds including Long-billed Curlew, Stilt Sandpiper, American Avocet, Black Skimmer, Marbled Godwit, Wilson's Warbler, Whimbrel, and several sparrow species (Clay-colored, Lark, Savannah, and Vesper). The real highlight was just as we were nearing the end, we had seen an Aplomado Falcon perched in a low-lying tree; that made TWO sightings by the habitat tour in one day! Because I initially spotted it, I was given the nickname "Audubon" for the rest of the trip.
After missing the Tamaulipas Crow on South Padre, it was logical to conclude the next spot to try for them was at the Brownsville (which was closed, but I still picked out a flyover Lesser Black-backed Gull). The sun was setting fast, so I needed a new place to bird before it got dark. We tried Oliviera Park at dusk to look for parrots, of which I only got Red-crowned (countable) and Red-lored (not countable), but I also had a dark corvid fly over. Was it a Tamaulipas? Was it a raven? I wasn't entirely sure, but it's easier to say what it most likely was rather than to say what it most likely was not, so I counted it as a Chihuahuan Raven.
Since I was leaving for New York this day, I didn't have too much time to bird; so I decided to try my luck with the Tropical Parula and Hammond's Flycatcher again, to no avail again. As I was getting ready to leave, I met young birder Michael Turso just as he was getting ready to search for the parula as well. Having struck out on the two rarities twice, I concluded I had gotten everything out of south Texas in just three full days of birding before we left for home (and for attempt two at finding any longspurs at the Dallas airport, no luck again). Tamaulipas Crow, Sprague's Pipit, Tropical Parula, and Blue Bunting would go down as the biggest misses of my odyssey...
While I joined the 600 club in world life lists (Aplomado Falcon was the magic bird), unfortunately some of the rarities I wanted would not be among them...
UPDATE: After reviewing my sound files and comparing what I heard to the Macaulay Library's extensive audio collection, I heard the Tropical Parula but was not able to see it.
To be continued...
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