Lone Star Blur

10 January

I wish I could have slowed down a bit and enjoyed more birding, but my first trip to Rio Grande Valley (The Valley), Texas was fast paced. I wanted to take advantage of the fact that a pair of Hook-billed Kites had become morning regulars at Bentson-Rio Grande State Park, with a bonus pair of Groove-billed Anis in same general area as the kites. The location was along the canal weir where I found a pair of kites, perhaps the same ones, almost three years ago. This time around was just as rewarding and it was a good morning, with both the kites and Anis making themselves available for the twenty-odd birders at the stakeout. I regard both species as quite special – and I really enjoyed prolonged scope views before moving on to Audubon Frontera Reserve at Weslaco, less than an hour’s drive up the valley.

One of the two Hook-billed Kites roosting in the early misty morning light. Nice.

The main target for my visit was a pair of Golden-crowned Warblers that were being seen regularly at Frontera. This was a bird I worked especially hard for in 2016, and Frontera is a wonderful place to spend time. And spend time I did – before another birder found one of the GC Warblers, and shared the opportunity with about a half dozen of appreciative searchers – me included. It was typically way back in the brush, but was not that hard to see, as it repeatedly hopped up and down between a roost in dense twigs about a metre high, and the ground. High fives all ’round.

A little concentration, and maybe a touch of imagination, and you’ll see a Golden-crowned Warbler here… The pair of Frontera Audubon Reserve rarities proved super-elusive, though at long last I had reasonable binocular views, and at least these very squinty images.



Although it seemed to me that birds were a bit thin on the ground, Frontera Reserve did yield some of its usual treasures for my enjoyment, including several Clay-coloured Thrushes.

From Weslaco, I travelled back downstream and East to Laguna Atascosa, another great birding site, but again, one that was a bit poor in birds – this time because access to the saltwater portions of the park were closed due to roadworks. My focus for this excursion was the Blue Bunting that had been reported the day before. There, I ran into 2018 ABA Big Year champ, Nicole Koeltzow, who had been searching and waiting for the bunting since first light. She also put in another effort the next day, but the bird was a no-show. It was terrific to meet Nicole, as well as some of my earlier birding buddies, Paul Lagosi, and Jordan Roderick. No Blue Bunting for me, but I did manage the Code 3 Tropical Parula that had been regularly reported from the park, and Nicole pointed out a Common Paraque, masquerading as leaf-litter and sticks, as is its way. Thanks Nicole!

Big Year birder Nicole Koeltzow taking a break from her two-day stakeout for Blue Bunting at Laguna Atascosa. So nice to meet her after following her 2018 exploits throughout the year.


Can you see me? Don’t worry, I couldn’t either, until Nicole pointed it out: Common Paraque.


A ‘coded’ Tropical Parula at the Laguna Atocasta Reserve was a consolation prize with the no-show of the Blue Bunting seen on the previous day.


The cheekiest bird of the Valley: Long-billed Thrasher – always obliging for even the hackiest of bird photographers!

From Laguna Atascosa visitor centre, I shot over to the so-called Aplomado Falcon viewing platform. No birds, as the sun went down. Later the next day – different story:

One of the pair of semi-wild, reintroduced Aplomado Falcons zooming past on the way to the Laguna Atascosa viewing platform

Two Code 3 Aplomado Falcons – honest!

The next day – I think it was the 9th?? I decided to head north to Uvalde for a crack at the Rufous-backed Thrush that had been seen twice earlier. I split the five-hour drive into two segments, stopping at Saleneno Reserve, right on the banks of the Rio Grande for a first-of-year crack at Morelet’s Seedeater, which my birding friends Dick and Gaylee Dean had reported a day or two earlier. I struck out, but really enjoyed the two hours I spent, as usual, when birding in the valley.

Lots of bird activity at the little mobile home setup at Saleneno, where for a small donation you can watch good birds coming and going to feeders. Here a Red-winged Blackbird moves in on a Great Kiskadee.


Altamira Oriole. Better wear sunglasses. Didn’t see the even brighter Audubon’s Oriole that can also be a regular at Saleneno.


Final part of my Texas trip – three hours pre-sunset at the Ulvade Texas scrubby site of recent reports of a Rufous-backed Thrush. I met another birder David, at the site, and between us, we really gave it the old ‘college try’. Ten minutes to sunset, and I made the choice to call it quits. I sent a notice of disappointment to a friend, put the phone back in my pocket, looked up, and BANG! It was as if the thrush had decided I’d scratched myself in the thick scrub and thorny vines sufficiently to earn a look. There’s no rush like a hard-fought-for high that comes from circumstances like this. I rang Dave, and we conspired to get the bird for him – which eventually paid off. The blur ended, and the smile accompanied me during the five hour drive back to McAllen. I spent the next day avoiding the Trump crowds and motorcades in McAllen by putting more time in at Laguna Atascosa, scoring the Aplomado Falcons, but coming no closer than Nicole had, to finding any Blue Buntings. I placed the falcon images up above, as they may make more sense that way.

My most rewarding sighting to date – Rufous-backed Robin.

As usual, I just don’t have enough time to give this blog post a fair go. Sorry about that! And so far as constructing my first wave of listings on the ‘List so Far’ site, I have no idea when I can get to it. Don’t worry, its probably only about 100 species so far anyway – January is shaping up as a rarities chase, as it was in 2016, but with much less pressure, and fewer birds demanding sleepless travel. Whew.