Bird Walk: May 14th, 2013

This is a weekly bird report written and photographed by our Interpretive Guide and Birder John Brush.

Red Crowned Parrot Christine Williams


Lilac Crowned Parrot Christine Williams

As we were walking up to the Discovery Center this morning, we came across Christine and saw that she was watching some Red-crowned Parrots, and a Lilac Crowned Parrot (possibly escaped pet) (photos by Christine) in a couple large Coral Beans! I’m assuming they were eating the beans themselves, but the birds quickly flushed. A good start to the morning walk, one that yielded 47 species of bird!

Bird Walk 2013-05-14 Gray Catbird John Brush

As we started onto the trails, we quickly ran into a bunch of migrant birds, such as this Gray Catbird. Migration is still going, with warblers still passing through and Empidonax flycatchers just starting to hit their peak.

Bird Walk 2013-05-14 Buff-bellied Hummingbird John Brush

This Buff-bellied Hummingbird was very cooperative, sitting just a couple meters off the trail. I believe this bird is a juvenile because it really doesn’t have much of the bright green throat that you’d typically see on adults. Also notice the overall dark bill and muted colors. If you can watch for hummingbirds when they dive into a thicket, you’re often rewarded with some great looks!

Bird Walk 2013-05-14 Acadian Flycatcher John Brush

This is yet another shot of an Epidonax flycatcher. This one, after reviewing several guides, looks to be an Acadian Flycatcher. William, who also was snapping a few shots of this bird, noticed that above the eye there appears to be a parasite of some sort (not sure what kind, however). Like other animals, birds will have some specialized parasites that feed only on them, such as Hippoboscid flies.

MacGillivrays Warbler Creative Commons

The Bird of the Day was the skulking MacGillivray’s Warbler that we only got a few glimpses of (too quick to get any photos).  This photo (creative commons photo) really shows the distinctive field mark of the MacGillivray’s Warbler – the wide broken eye-ring. The similar Mourning Warbler also has the dark hood, yellow belly, but lacks the broken eye ring. MacGillivray’s Warblers are listed as occasional visitors to the LRGV, as their range and migration route it mostly to the west.

Join us for our last bird walk of the Spring – Tuesday, May 21st at 8:30am.  Then, join us for a Birding and Nature Walk at 8:30am every Saturday throughout the summer (starting June 1st)!


Bird Babies Everywhere- It’s Breeding Season!

Written and photographed by Interpretive Guide and Birder John Brush.

It is that time of year again: loud begging calls erupt from a dense Texas Ebony tree as the parent Mockingbird flies in with a big grasshopper. Groups of fledglings with their stubby tails and brand new feathers follow parents from branch to branch, hoping to be first in line for that juicy berry or caterpillar. There is bird activity everywhere – the breeding season is now in full swing!

What is the breeding season in the Rio Grande Valley? It is a time period, starting in March and April and extending through the summer as late as August, when many of the permanent and summer resident birds of the Valley build nests, incubate eggs, and raise young. The total number of young that these birds raise often has to do with the amount of rain we have gotten.

Mourning Dove John Brush Quinta Mazatlan

Mourning Doves are one species of bird that has a very long breeding season (sometimes year round!), depending on their location.

I love the breeding season – it is one of the most interesting times of year to watch birds, although I admit that I think every time of year is good for watching birds. Birds are particularly fun to watch in the breeding season because of all the fascinating behaviors you can observe.

Seeing a Great Kiskadee flying back and forth with its bill full of fibrous materials, working so hard to build its large domed nest, is always a treat. The loud calls the pair make as they discuss family business, or the angry “reeks!” and chases that alert a Great-tailed Grackle that it is too close, adds to this birds already potent charisma.

Then, after 2-3 weeks of incubating and a couple more of feeding the young in the nest, the baby birds fledge. Just last week on our regular Tuesday morning bird walk we got to see two different species of fledgling bird! Three Curve-billed Thrasher juveniles were calling softly, keeping their soft brown eyes on us and their parents. A White-eyed Vireo juvenile waited silently and patiently as its parent foraged in the nearby mesquite trees.

Curve-billed Thrasher John Brush Quinta Mazatlan

Juvenile Curve-billed Thrashers have brown/gray eyes, but when they grow up their eyes will turn bright orange.

The breeding season is upon us once again, and I am glad! Keep your eyes open for birds nesting in your yard, and spend some time enjoying the vast array of breeding behaviors that each bird has to offer – you may fall in love with some of our most common, yet beautiful, birds all over again.

Join us for a Bird Walk! Tuesdays (through May) 8:30am-10:00am at Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen, Texas.

Bird Walk: April 23rd, 2013

This is a weekly bird report written and photographed by our Interpretive Guide and Birder John Brush.

Had another great walk this morning at Quinta Mazatlan, joined by both out of town and local birders (including our Conservation Hero, Jane Kittleman). The morning was filled with a variety of species: 3 vireo species, 6 warbler species, along with thrushes and some flycatchers.

Bird Walk 2013-04-23 Carolina Wren John Brush

We started by seeing a family of Carolina Wrens just outside the front desk doors in the Hummingbird Garden. There were three of these short-tailed, tufty little wrens just leaving the nest box. Notice the wide yellow gape – a sure sign of a fledgling. These cuties got all the appropriate attention.

Bird Walk 2013-04-23 White-eyed Vireo John Brush

Not to be outdone by the wrens for cuteness was this White-eyed Vireo fledgling, hidden a few meters back in some thick granjeno branches. Again, this bird looks like its very recently fledged – I wouldn’t have known it was a vireo if I hadn’t seen the adult feeding it!

Bird Walk 2013-04-23 Scarlet Tanager John Brush

We also got some mesquite-blocked views of a brilliant Scarlet Tanager, which are migrating through the Valley in large numbers, especially towards the coast.

Bird Walk 2013-04-23 Summer Tanager John Brush

The second tanager species we got was this female Summer Tanager, and we later saw an immature male starting to get its bright red plumage.

Bird Walk 2013-04-23 Common Pauraque John Brush

The Bird of the Day, chosen by all present, had to have been our beautiful nesting Common Pauraque . This is the third week we’ve seen a pauraque at the exact same spot. Three weeks is significant, because if it had been incubating eggs from the first time we spotted it then it would be about now that the eggs would hatch. The bird shifted a little bit when we saw, possibly meaning that there are small baby pauraques under its brood patch. We need to continue to check it every day we can!

Join us for a Bird Walk! Tuesdays (through April) 8:30am-10:00am at Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen, Texas.

Bird Walk: April 16th, 2013

This is a weekly bird report written and photographed by our Interpretive Guide and Birder John Brush.

Had a nice group of birders come along for the morning walk, along with our regular crew. We started off the morning with a bang, seeing a Green Jay, a couple female Summer Tanagers, and an Ovenbird (a cute little warbler that walks on the forest floor).

Bird Walk 2013-04-16 Swainsons Thrush

We also got looks at this Swainson’s Thrush, a migratory thrush, at the water feature beneath the big Anacua tree. Many thrushes have the same general appearance, with speckled breasts and an overall brownish color. One of the field marks of this species is the tan eye-ring, and pale supraloral band going from the bill to the eye.

Bird Walk 2013-04-16 Nashville Warbler

We also saw some migrant warblers, such as this Nashville Warbler. These birds have bright yellow breasts and bellies, but the distinguishing marks is the gray hood and large white eye ring. They are migrating through in large numbers, and are fun birds to see.

Bird Walk 2013-04-16 Yellow-breasted Chat

Yellow-breasted Chat is another neotropical migrant in the warbler family. They are larger than most warblers, and have much thicker bills. They like to be in thickets near water, but will occasionally come out into the open. Today we got to see one bathing in Ruby Pond!

Bird Walk 2013-04-16 Mississippi Kite

Mississippi Kite is another species of raptor that migrates through the Rio Grande Valley in large numbers. These birds have the stereotypical shape of a kite – long, thin wings and a slender body. Watch for them in the evenings as they come down to roost in wooded areas; they’ll even spend the night in your neighborhood, as they have mine!

Join us for a Bird Walk! Tuesdays (through April) 8:30am-10:00am at Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen, Texas.

Bird Walk: April 2nd, 2013

This is a weekly bird report written and photographed by our Interpretive Guide and Birder John Brush.

Birds were really moving around the park this morning. Its a fun time of year in regards to birds, because not only are we starting to get some migrating birds coming through, as well as summer residents coming back to the Valley, but many of the permanent resident birds are already building nests or even fledging young!

Bird Walk 2013-04-02 Broad Winged Hawk John Brush

One common migrant is the Broad-winged Hawk. They come through the Valley in huge numbers in the fall and spring as they migrate from and to their breeding grounds in the North and Eastern United States. They are medium to small sized hawks, and one very distinctive feature is the trailing edge of the wings.

Bird Walk 2013-04-02 Ash-throated Flycatcher John Brush

An example of a bird that both breeds and migrates through the Valley is the Ash-throated Flycatcher. It is a member of the genus Myiarchus in the flycatcher family. Birds of this genus can be very difficult to tell apart visually. These birds are also another example of a cavity-nester!

Bird Walk 2013-04-02 Northern Parula John Brush

The Bird of the Day was a singing male Northern Parula. These beautiful birds will breed in the Hill Country of Texas, as well as much of the northeast United States. They do a distinctive rising buzzy call, and this morning the bird was singing profusely. It took us a couple tries to find it, but it eventually gave us good looks. Northern Parulas can be told apart from the Tropical by the broken white eye-ring, and the males have a dark blue band across the chest.

Join us for a Bird Walk! Tuesdays (through April) 8:30am-10:00am at Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen, Texas.

Nature’s Egg Hunt


Mockingbird Eggs

As many across the Valley prepare for annual Easter Egg Hunts, it might be worthy of taking a few hours to stroll through one of the Valley’s nature preserves this holiday… for a quite different magical excitement—the search for an elusive “nature” egg. 

hummer eggs

Hummingbird Eggs

Probably birds first come to mind when asked “Who lays an EGG?”  Certainly most of us will never have the privilege of ever spotting one in a real nest…their parents so cleverly disguise or hide them.  Hummingbird eggs can be the size of your little fingernail! (Imagine a fully formed animal inside the space of your fingernail!)  We don’t have the largest egg in the world in the Valley (the ostrich), but perhaps the Red Tailed Hawk’s speckled 2 inch egg is our largest.   I wonder if you could guess three of our birds that have BLUE shells:  Great Blue Heron, American Robin,  and our state bird, the Northern Mockingbird!  An array of speckled patterns on our eggs keep birds like killdeer chicks, Northern Cardinals, and Kingbirds well camoflagued in their egg cases.  But not owls and woodpeckers!  Its as if they DARE us to see them—white as the moon!  They know no predator is likely to EVER see THEIR eggs hiding deep  inside the dark palm hole condos.  And the common paraque…well..good luck.  It’s hard enough to even see the BIRD just sitting there in broad daylight on the forest floor, it’s feathers blend in so well, much less EVER get a chance to see the egg it is incubating right there in the leaf litter as you walk by.

harris egg

Harris’s Hawk Eggs

By now you’ve probably already blurted out, yes, but BIRDS aren’t the ONLY ones that lay eggs!  Snakes will  hide theirs in wood holes, tortoises burrow under the ground to hide their ping pong shaped eggs.  Of course it’s a bit early to see the nesting turtles at South Padre Island bury their soft-shelled cluster of eggs in the sand.  Frog and fish eggs are spawned in the ponds.  But truly, most of  the millions of other eggs that this weekend are hiding in the nature parks are likely never to even be seen by humans.  They are our invertebrate eggs.  Butterfly eggs can look amazingly like a corn on the cob under magnification!  Some are elongated…most are in clusters.  In general, they are yellowish, and hidden on the UNDERSIDE of leaves, to avoid dehydration from the brutal sun. Even mammals…produce eggs.  We just don’t lay them.  In fact….the entire animal kingdom truly owes its introduction to life…to the magical protection of the egg.


Quinta Mazatlan’s Discovery Center will be open on Easter Saturday, March 30 between 10 am and Noon, and again from 1:30-3:30 with a display of nature’s eggs and a variety of bird nests.  Its forest trails will be open all day for your own discovery “nature egg hunt”.

But…good luck finding them!  These animals are pretty clever hiders!

Visit for more information.

Bird Walk: March 19th, 2013

This is a weekly bird report written and photographed by our Interpretive Guide and Birder John Brush.

Three birders joined me for the Tuesday Morning Bird walk. We enjoyed walking slowly through the park, listening for birds and chatting about the bird life of the Valley. As it has been lately, the birds were pretty quiet in the park, but a few mid-walk sightings got our blood pumping.

Bird Walk 2013-03-19 Red-Tailed Hawk

This Red-tailed Hawk took a perch in one of our palm trees by Ruby Pond, giving us great looks as it tried to balance on the wavering fronds. One thing to notice on this bird is the white fringes on the scapulars (the feathers on the back). This is a good marker for Red-tailed Hawks. However, these hawks show great variety in plumages, so you may not always see as much white, or any at all!

Bird Walk 2013-03-19 Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are starting to check out the park again for suitable nesting sites. We saw four of them (not my photo) flying around the park. These ducks are actually one of our cavity nesting birds in the RGV! They look for large cavities, either an old and expanded woodpecker hole, or a natural cavity in a tree. They also will sometimes nest on flat roof-tops. Note the large white patch on the upper wing – this is a distinctive feature in flight.

Bird Walk 2013-03-19 Hooded Oriole

The Bird of the Day wasn’t hard to choose this time – it was definitely this beautiful Hooded Oriole we saw in the parking lot.  These orioles look superficially similar to the larger Altamira Oriole, but can be distinguished from that species in several ways. As mentioned, size can be a good indicator: Hooded Orioles are much smaller and have slender bills built for capturing insects and drinking nectar. They also have a white patch on the shoulder, whereas the Altamira would have an orange patch. Lastly, the calls are different. We heard this bird giving the typical call – a soft, musical wheet. Look for their nests tucked underneath a palm frond.

Join us for a Bird Walk!  Tuesdays 8:30am-10:00am at Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen, Texas.