Ah, the Sewage Ponds

It may sound awful, but sewage ponds are a good place to look for birds. And that is exactly where we went on our first morning outing in San Blas.

If I can trust my camera roll, the first birds we saw were an assortment of seedeaters and kingbirds, but I have given first position to this very attractive Groove-Billed Ani, because I never noticed the unique woven-looking pattern of the nape feathers before.

And now, the Seedeaters…

Tropical Kingbirds can be good subjects. Below this one is a Thick-billed Kingbird for comparison, but the name doesn’t seem all that descriptive to me.

Tropical Kingbird
Thick-billed Kingbird

Those of you who know me know I adore Crows, so I was thrilled to observe a new species doing Crow Stuff.

I don’t think a day went by without a Zone-tailed Hawk, either…

I was impressed with the graceful flight of a Wood Stork.

This falcon could have been laughing at me for as long as I waited for him to turn his head for a profile shot.

Laughing Falcon

Unlike my last Texas trip, I don’t recall hearing the incessant chatter of a Bell’s Vireo, but at least we saw this one.

Bell’s Vireo

Great Kiskadees were ever-present but nearly impossible to photograph. I wonder why I bothered with this one.

Great Kiskadee
Inca Doves
Great-tailed Grackle

Not sure I have any better images coming of Roseate Spoonbills, but here’s one flying.

All these species would have been way too many for me to get my head around without taking pictures. A new woodpecker!

Below, what an endearing little flycatcher for such a long name. I confess I don’t know what makes it “beardless.”

Not a day went by without a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher distraction. Some days were Blue-grey though.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

I think we had a record number of pygmy owls on this trip.

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

The remaining images are…more birds seen.

Black-chinned Hummingbird (female)
White-faced Ibis (immature)
Willet

This Yellow-Winged Cacique was having a bad hair day. Lovely flower though.

I didn’t manage to photograph many butterflies with a 100-400mm lens, but these are a few that we saw. I’ve put the Vermilion Flycatcher with them because unlike previous trips, I never got close enough to one to do it justice. I will try to identify the rest of the butterflies when my new butterfly book arrives…

Raptors aplenty – Short-Tailed Hawk is new for me.

Crested Caracara

I was going to include the afternoon river excursion photos, but I think they deserve their own space. So my chronicle of this day in San Blas will continue soon.

All Hail Breaks Loose

I wasn’t too excited about the photographs I found on my laptop for the day after the big hike, but then when I checked my phone I remembered why there were so few. If my memory serves me correctly, we woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of hail hitting the roof and then when we set out for a short local trek before taking vehicles to other trails, finding hail piled up almost a foot high on the gravel road.

So it looks like it was a cloudy, iffy day weather-wise, and eventually we had hail again. Only this time we were safe inside the vehicles.

The video and these images are from the cell phone. A dramatic landscape enhanced by weather.

Two birds willingly posed within range that day: the Audubon’s Yellow-Rumped Warbler at the top of the page and this lovely Say’s Phoebe.

But also ubiquitous on the entire trip were Bell’s Vireos. We didn’t always see them but we definitely heard them every day.

Bell’s Vireo
A distant Yellow-Breasted Chat

Dark, cloudy and distant pictures of two hummingbirds (Lucifer on the upper left and middle and Broad-Tailed below, right) and a Varied Bunting in between them.

We visited this amazing fossil discovery exhibit which is in Big Bend National Park.

Some flora which I might be able to identify if I could just find the laminated checklist of Big Bend wildflowers I purchased at the Visitors Center. Looking through even more pictures on the internet makes it tempting to revisit this area some day. I want to come back as a plant fanatic.

Not sure who this is either…
A distant but very cooperative Loggerhead Shrike.
Black-Chinned Sparrow
This was the vista behind the Bell’s Vireo above.
A Rock Squirrel and his rock.

There are four more days of photographs from the Southwest Texas trip to decipher. Then it’s onward to rejuvenate or replace the travel laptop before I take it on another adventure coming up next month!

Southwest Texas: Building the List

Vermilion Flycatcher

It was challenging for many reasons to get photographs on this day. The birds were far away. They were backlit. They were hiding behind branches of trees or leaves of cactus. It was somewhat cloudy. And yet I was surprised to finally go through all the pictures more thoroughly and find some images I didn’t know I had. Most of all, it is great to get a feel for the landscape where the birds and other creatures were.

Saving the big hike for the following day, we explored the low-lying areas along the Rio Grande.

White-winged Dove

Most of these birds we continued to see throughout the trip, like the Say’s Phoebe below. I like the cactus cover this bird was using.

Say’s Phoebe

Mexican Jays are stunning. I don’t think we ever saw more than two at one time. They were somewhat elusive.

Mexican Jay

We saw Roadrunners on occasion but not close enough or long enough to get really good pictures. Maybe we were too distracted by our search for less common species.

It must be West Texas – there’s a Greater Roadrunner!

Hearing and barely seeing a Bell’s Vireo is a big event where I come from, so witnessing their incessant chatter and then getting such great views was heaven for me.

I adore Ravens and tried to get photographs whenever I could.

Common Raven

We spent some time locating and then looking at this Tropical Parula. It was so far away I wasn’t at all sure I got a photograph so I was surprised to find a few that were in focus. So I guess it was good I was carrying around my monster lens most of the time, although by the end of the trip it was starting to fall apart…

This Turkey Vulture is actually kind of cute. Snazzy pink legs and face to match.

Turkey Vulture, posing

Vermillion Flycatchers were almost everywhere. I like the female’s subdued plumage.

I think Western Wood Pewee was a new bird for me.

Western Wood Pewee

I got only one distant fuzzy shot of the male Varied Bunting, bottom right.

We were privileged to have good, long looks at a perched Zone-Tailed Hawk. You can just barely see the trademark tail band tucked underneath the tips of its folded wings.

Zone-tailed Hawk

Swainson’s Hawks are beautiful. Without the monster lens I would not have captured this detail.

Swainson’s Hawk

The Gray Hawk is…well…very gray.

There were more Scott’s Orioles to be seen, but even though this one was quite far away, I love the vegetation it has decided to perch on.

Scott’s Oriole
The Rio Grande
Inca Dove
House Finch
Golden-fronted Woodpecker

The Cordilleran Flycatcher was a new bird for me. I wish I’d gotten a better photograph, but this at least gives me an idea in case I am lucky enough to see one again.

Cordilleran Flycatcher

The gray day didn’t do this Acorn Woodpecker justice, but I still think of The Joker.

Acorn Woodpecker
Some of the dramatic landscape surrounding the Zone-Tailed Hawk’s perch.

It will take me some time to process the rest of this trip’s pictures, but I get to savor my memories a little bit longer. In the meantime, we keep wondering when summer will arrive in the Chicago area. While I am glad it’s not hot, it’s been colder and wetter than I ever remember for mid-June. I hope your summer solstice is going well.

The Elusive Bell’s Vireo

Bell's Vireo

Bell’s Vireo

Bell’s Vireos have a reputation for sounding like they should be in plain sight but hiding behind the curtain, if you will. At least that has been my experience with those that breed in Illinois, so it was particularly rewarding to get pretty good looks, if not great pictures, of a Bell’s Vireo in Texas the last day of our trip.

Bell's Vireo 4-30-14-9724

We dispersed early in the morning to bird the grounds of Neal’s Lodges individually before leaving for the Austin airport. I thought I had a better recording of this bird’s song, for all the singing he was doing, but there seems to be interference from road noise and several other birds. Anyway, the Bell’s is the intermittent but emphatic little chattery song, if you can hear it.

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Bell's Vireo 4-30-14-9751

It’s possible one of the other birds singing a bit is a Black-Throated Sparrow. I was delighted to find him and get a few pictures as well. The last time I saw this species was almost two and a half years ago in New Mexico. Hard to believe it’s been that long.

Black-Throated Sparrow

Black-Throated Sparrow

The bird has to be facing you to see the black throat for which it’s named. Otherwise you need to be familiar with its other field marks, like the broad white supercilium.

Black-Throated Sparrow 4-30-14-9666

Black-Throated Sparrow 4-30-14-9670

There was also a cooperative Clay-Colored Sparrow, but I don’t hear his buzzy song on this recording.

Clay-Colored Sparrow 4-30-14-9484

Clay-Colored Sparrow

Clay-Colored Sparrow 4-30-14-9657 Clay-Colored Sparrow 4-30-14-9685

Indoor birds and I are listening to Gluck’s Iphigenie en Tauride on the Tuesday Night Opera with Peter Van De Graaff on WFMT. It seems a good night to stay home, close the windows to retain some heat overnight, turn on the oven and roast veggies. The drop in temperature dictates coziness.