Songbird Stroll – Halloween 2015

Happy Halloween to all you nature lovers out there! Its been a rainy past week here in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and the thorn forest at Quinta Mazatlan was lush and humid – a good example that we are indeed a tropical forest.

It can take a few moments to find one of our Common Pauraques, but the effort is worth it!

It can take a few moments to find one of our Common Pauraques, but the effort is worth it!

As always, we took time to stop and look for some of our resident Common Pauraques. They truly are common birds here in the Valley, but because they are so well camouflaged and forage at night, I don’t think Valley locals are aware of how many there are. The best way to tell if you have a pauraque in your area is to know the sound of their call.

Buff-bellied Hummingbirds are the most frequently encountered hummingbird at Quinta Mazatlan.

Buff-bellied Hummingbirds are the most frequently encountered hummingbird at Quinta Mazatlan.

Out of curiosity, I wanted to look at the annual frequencies of the four hummingbird species we regularly see at Quinta Mazatlan. Buff-bellied Hummingbirds (gray line) are the most common, becoming reported on 80-90% of eBird checklists in the fall. Only small numbers of Ruby-throated, Black-chinned (note the uptick of frequency in the summer, as this is a breeding bird), and Rufous hummingbirds are reported in the winter months.

Hermit Thrush are one of our wintering birds - look in the shady forest for their subtle colors.

Hermit Thrush are one of our wintering birds – look in the shady forest for their subtle colors.

I saw two Hermit Thrushes today visiting one of our water features. These birds winter across the southern United States and down into Mexico and Central America. They’re not commonly seen wintering birds (probably because of their liking of thick forest understory), but they are present in every year.

Eastern Phoebes are one of the Valley's common winter birds.

Eastern Phoebes are one of the Valley’s common winter birds.

Out in the more open habitat of Ebony Grove (where I also had a Pyrrhuloxia), I saw one of our more common winter birds – an Eastern Phoebe. These flycatchers often bob their tails, and make short sallies (flights) out from their perch to catch insect prey. Because of their relatively dull coloring, I often get “fooled” into looking more closely at them thinking they may be a different species. Despite being common (and tricking me), they are pretty little birds and have a sweet call.

Tournefortia volubillis (vine on the left) is the host plant for the beautiful Saucy Beauty moth.

Tournefortia volubillis (vine on the left) is the host plant for the beautiful Saucy Beauty moth (right, photo from June, 2015).

As many of you know, I tend to get happily distracted on our Songbird Strolls by all other amazing flora and fauna our parks hosts. This morning I decided to try to re-locate a South Texas and Florida specialty vine, Tournefortia volubilis. I was inspired by Doug Tallamy’s recent talk here at Quinta Mazatlan, and all the wonderful native plant experts that came to Planta Nativa. I did manage to find at least one individual plant, and though I searched for a Saucy Beauty moth (another South Texas specialty), I couldn’t find any this time.

As always, the full bird list is below. Have a great weekend!

Regards,
John Brush

Plain Chachalaca  14
Inca Dove  7
White-winged Dove  19
Common Pauraque  2
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1
Ruby-throated/Black-chinned Hummingbird  1     Leaning black-chinned. Super long bill
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  4
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  7
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  2
Eastern Phoebe  1
Great Kiskadee  6
Couch’s Kingbird  2
White-eyed Vireo  1
Green Jay  4
Barn Swallow  5
Black-crested Titmouse  2
House Wren  3
Carolina Wren  1     Singing
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Hermit Thrush  2
Clay-colored Thrush  13
Curve-billed Thrasher  2
Long-billed Thrasher  2
Northern Mockingbird  9
European Starling  4
Orange-crowned Warbler  1
Black-throated Green Warbler  1
Wilson’s Warbler  1
Olive Sparrow  2
Summer Tanager  1
Northern Cardinal  4
Pyrrhuloxia  1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  1
Indigo Bunting  5
Great-tailed Grackle  9

Advertisements

Songbird Stroll October 20, 2015

Migrating birds are continuing to show up little by little as fall migration progresses. Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Orange-crowned Warblers are a couple of the later-arriving migrants that were seen this morning. While scanning the radiantly-red turk’s cap flowers along Birding Creek, the forceful chatter of a Buff-bellied Hummingbird was heard. After drawing our attention to the call notes we saw swaying stalks and leaves where this hummingbird was flying. It was such a treat to see this beautiful Buff-bellied Hummingbird hover and feed as it probed the freshly-opened turk’s cap flowers.

BBHU

Buff-bellied Hummingbird feeding on the turk’s cap flowers.

Green Jays gave their squawky call notes, marking their feeding territories to other jays in the area. As they leaped from branch to branch throughout the mature oak tree, the jays gobbled up acorns found hidden among the leaves. Green Jays feed readily on sunflowers and suet too. They can’t help but show off their endless shades of lime green and ocean blue.

 

GRJA eating sunflower

Down the hatch! A Green Jay is about to swallow a sunflower seed.

We continued to walk towards Ebony Grove after visiting Birding Creek. As we stood below the palm snags we heard and saw Golden-fronted Woodpeckers feeding over our heads. They gave their sharp call notes as the probed up and down the tree trunks looking for insects to eat.

GFWO

Look carefully and you’ll see the bright yellow “front” of this bird’s forehead. That is where the name Golden-fronted Woodpecker originates!

CCTH

Here is one of the many Clay-colored Thrushes seen this morning. They are such a striking bird!

INBU

First heard then seen, the buzzy “bzzt” call note caught our attention as we spotted this female Indigo Bunting.

PLCH

Two Plain Chachalacas rest together and preen each other in a mesquite along Birding Creek.

Below is the eBird checklist form this morning’s Songbird Stroll.  Be sure to join us next Saturday from 8:00-9:30 as we look for recently-arrived migrating birds!
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  50
Plain Chachalaca  20
Inca Dove  10
White-winged Dove  12
Mourning Dove  4
Common Pauraque  1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  2
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  2
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  6
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  2
Great Kiskadee  2
Couch’s Kingbird  2
Green Jay  2
Barn Swallow  5
Cave Swallow  3
Verdin 1
House Wren 2
Carolina Wren 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Clay-colored Thrush 15
Curve-billed Thrasher 8
Long-billed Thrasher 1
Northern Mockingbird 6
European Starling 2
Black-and-white Warbler 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Olive Sparrow 3
Northern Cardinal 2
Indigo Bunting 1
Great-tailed Grackle 20
Bronzed Cowbird 2
House Sparrow 15

Good birding,

Erik Bruhnke

Songbird Stroll October 3rd, 2015

It was a fresh autumn morning at Quinta Mazatlan – cool in the shade but still hot in the sun . On these sorts of mornings I can’t wait to get out and see what birds are in the park. Well, admittedly, I feel that way most mornings, but there is something about the turn of the season that spurs a new excitement at what could be seen next in the park – we’re always hoping to add more species to our current 250+ species list.

We're not sure how this Javelina got to the park, but it sure seems happy here!

We’re not sure how this Javelina got to the park, but it sure seems happy here!

The first thing I saw after putting out seed and suet at our amphitheater feeding station was one of the park’s local javelinas! We think there are two that roam the park. Javelinas (or Collared Peccary), according to Texas Parks and Wildlife, have an undeserved reputation for being aggressive, when oftentimes they hang around humans longer than other wildlife simply because they can’t see as well! However, one should never approach or try to feed a javelina, because they can get accustomed to humans and can become problematic. All the visitors who got to see this javelina were quite excited – another (big) example of wildlife in Quinta Mazatlan!

Two of Quinta Mazatlan’s Green Jays – notice the band on the Green Jay on the right!

One of the bird walk participants wanted to get photographs of a Green Jay, and our local birds decided to oblige! In some parts of the Green Jays large tropical range, they are known to cooperatively breed (having additional helpers-at-the-nest along with the parents), but in South Texas do not. They do, however, maintain family groups most times of year that defend their territory. Green Jays at Santa Ana National Wildlife refuge were known to have a territory size of about 37 acres, so it seems likely that we have a single family group here at Quinta Mazatlan (15 acres).

Clay-colored Thrush underneath

We got plenty of views at our flock of Clay-colored Thrushes. The one in this photo is showing the typical pale streaking on the throat.

Notice the yellow pollen on this Buff-bellied Hummingbirds head!

Notice the yellow pollen on this Buff-bellied Hummingbirds head. This bird is ready to do some pollinating!

There are quite a few hummingbirds in the park, with migrating Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and resident Buff-bellied Hummingbirds being the most common. The hummingbird in the photo above is most likely a female, distinguished by the dark upper bill and the central tail feathers being mostly green-bronze. The Buff-bellied Hummingbirds in Quinta Mazatlan are predominantly nectaring on Turk’s Cap and Tropical Sage (or of course from our hummingbird feeders), but I have seen them nectaring on aloe flowers and Coral Bean flowers as well. They don’t only drink nectar however, and frequently are seen hover-gleaning and flycatching for small arthropods.

Bird list below:
Plain Chachalaca  12     These birds were definitely agitated by the javelina
Killdeer  2
Inca Dove  4
White-winged Dove  17
Chimney Swift  7
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  2
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  7
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  2
Vermilion Flycatcher  1
Great Kiskadee  7
Couch’s Kingbird  1
Green Jay  3
Black-crested Titmouse  1
Bewick’s Wren  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  2
Clay-colored Thrush  11
Curve-billed Thrasher  3
Long-billed Thrasher  1
Northern Mockingbird  11
European Starling  4
Yellow Warbler  3
Wilson’s Warbler  3
Olive Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  2
Red-winged Blackbird  1
Great-tailed Grackle  14
Lesser Goldfinch  2
House Sparrow  15

Have a great weekend!

John Brush

August 18, 2015 Songbird Stroll

GRHE closeup

Green Herons often wait quietly by the water’s edge for prey to come close before striking out to snatch a quick meal.

This morning’s Songbird Stroll wowed us with birds of the waters’ edge and deep forest! Quinta Mazatlan World Birding Center is known for its meandering wooded trails that delight nature enthusiasts of all types. The native landscaping provides homes for butterflies, birds, mammals, and the many lizards that call these woods home sweet home. Quinta Mazatlan also has several small water features that are each ecologically important and unique in their own way. Ruby Pond provides good fishing grounds for the Green Heron who visits this body of water. Did you know that Green Herons will place small floating lures on the water surface to attract the fish they eat?

BBHU

A Buff-bellied Hummingbird rests in between breakfast sips of nectar.

Near Ruby Pond are several hummingbird feeders which attract quite the crowd these days. As the days progress into peak fall migration, we will be going through large quantities of nectar every day as dozens of hummingbirds stock up on this feast.

STSA flight

Stilt Sandpipers breed in the northern tundra. The majority of the population will migrate through the central part of the United States, passing just west of the Mississippi River, and they will eventually end up in the central parts of South America where they will spend the winter months.

Another treat this morning was seeing six Stilt Sandpipers fly by. This beautiful shorebird species is migrating right now. With a careful eye you’ll see the dark wings, slightly decurved bill and pale underside of this shorebird species.

OLSP itch

Here an Olive Sparrows hits the spot by scratching its chin. You can see the band that has been placed on this bird’s left leg. Researchers use this individual identification of birds to study migration, behavior, life-span, and survival rate.

Join us for the Songbird Stroll every Tuesday and Saturday morning 8am – 9:30am.  The walk is included with general admission.

WWDO baby

These young White-winged Doves show off their pale faces and pink bills, a feature found during their earlier stages of life. They will be darker-faced and darker-billed as their adult plumage comes in.

Here is the eBird list from this morning’s Songbird Stroll.

Plain Chachalaca  15
Green Heron  1
Stilt Sandpiper  6
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  4
Inca Dove  10
White-tipped Dove  2
White-winged Dove  18
Mourning Dove  4
Groove-billed Ani  7     Family group seen across from the casita (at the entrance of Quinta Mazatlan)
Common Pauraque  1
Chimney Swift  5
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  4
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  3
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  1
Green Parakeet  4
Great Kiskadee  5
Couch’s Kingbird  1
White-eyed Vireo  1
Green Jay  2
Cave Swallow  10
Clay-colored Thrush  3
Curve-billed Thrasher  2
Northern Mockingbird  5
European Starling  3
Olive Sparrow  8
Northern Cardinal  1
Great-tailed Grackle  4
Lesser Goldfinch  3
House Sparrow  20

Good birding,

Erik Bruhnke

August 12, 2015 Songbird Stroll and more!

The bird life at Quinta Mazatlan is exciting as ever. Families of Black-crested Titmice are seen daily as they feed as a flock throughout the various levels of our forest. One of the summer specialties of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, a Groove-billed Ani, was heard several times during yesterday’s Songbird Stroll. Juvenile Golden-fronted Woodpeckers check out nearly every tree cavity in search of food. Juvenile Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are being seen on a daily basis throughout our native flowers now. They mingle and share scolding notes with the local Buff-bellied Hummingbirds.

BBHU without tail2

BBHU without tail1 This juvenile Buff-bellied Hummingbird is growing its tail. Those wings look so long without having a nearby tail!

The families of songbirds are seen all over our trails. The beautifully-bedraggled young Inca Doves are following their parents around through the forest clearings. Juvenile Great-tailed Grackles are hosting a sharp-looking array of golden-brown and black mottled feathers throughout their appearance. The grackles’ continuous begging can be heard from quite a distance. The pale blue-headed juvenile Green Jays flutter their wings in hopes of a free meal from their parents. Recently-fledged Clay-colored Thrushes give their soothing call notes as they check under many dried layers of leaves. It is a unique time of summer when the bird life both young and old can be found on nearly every tree!

GRKI adult juvenile

Parent (left)  and young (right) Great Kiskadees. Note the adult’s dark bill and yellow crown stripe. Juvenile Great Kiskadees have a yellow gape and a solid black crown.

OLSP feeding close

As you walk through our trails you’re bound to hear the ping-pong ball song and shrilling call note of the Olive Sparrows that live throughout our woods. Several families of Olive Sparrows can be found here this summer.

Two our month-long birding workshops are going on right now. Today’s Intermediate Birding Workshop had some exciting finds including two roosting Common Nighthawks, the popular Common Pauraque, and even a Gray Hawk calling and circling high overhead!

CONI

Common Nighthawk roosting during today’s Intermediate Birding Workshop. Digiscoped.

CONI1

Another Common Nighthawk seen roosting this morning! Digiscoped.

COPA

This Common Pauraque’s tail is growing longer every day! Look how those stunning feather details and colors blend into the leaves. Digiscope.

GRHA adult

Adult Gray Hawk circling high up in the sky this morning.

Below is yesterday morning’s Songbird Stroll bird list.
Plain Chachalaca  20
Black-necked Stilt  1
Killdeer  1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  3
Inca Dove  25
White-tipped Dove  2
White-winged Dove  15
Mourning Dove  10
Groove-billed Ani  1
Eastern Screech-Owl (McCall’s)  1
Common Nighthawk  1
Common Pauraque  2
Chimney Swift  3
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1     Juvenile
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  4
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  4
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  2
Green Parakeet  6
Great Kiskadee  10
Couch’s Kingbird  5
White-eyed Vireo  1
Green Jay  3
Purple Martin  5
Cliff Swallow  3
Cave Swallow  5
Black-crested Titmouse  6
Carolina Wren  2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
Clay-colored Thrush  5
Curve-billed Thrasher  3
Long-billed Thrasher  1
Northern Mockingbird  7
European Starling  1
Olive Sparrow  5
Northern Cardinal  2
Great-tailed Grackle  12
Bronzed Cowbird  1
Brown-headed Cowbird  2
Orchard Oriole  5
Lesser Goldfinch  5
House Sparrow  15

This morning’s Intermediate Birding Workshop bird hike results are below.

Plain Chachalaca  21
Gray Hawk  1     adult
Swainson’s Hawk  1     migrating adult
Killdeer  1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  5
Inca Dove  4
White-winged Dove  25
Mourning Dove  10
Eastern Screech-Owl (McCall’s)  1
Common Nighthawk  2
Common Pauraque  1
Chimney Swift  3
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  3
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  2
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  1
Great Kiskadee  4
Couch’s Kingbird  1
Green Jay  3
Purple Martin  3
Cliff Swallow  1
Black-crested Titmouse  4
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
Clay-colored Thrush  4
Curve-billed Thrasher  1
Northern Mockingbird  3
European Starling  1
Olive Sparrow  5
Great-tailed Grackle  20
Lesser Goldfinch  2
House Sparrow  30

Good Birding,

Erik Bruhnke

Bird Walk August 26, 2014

A high-perched Olive-sided Flycatcher greeted all four bird hike participants as we left the main house. The beautiful Plain Chachalacas made their presence known with their cackling calls, as well as their sail-like wings & tails as they soared between the rooftops and treetops. Great Kiskadees chattered up a storm, and the nectar-loving Golden-fronted Woodpeckers made sure to enjoy the hummingbird feeders with their long, well-adapted tongues. Buff-bellied Hummingbirds and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird partook in the sweet-tooth breakfast at the nectar feeders this morning too. One stunning Yellow Warbler was seen feeding atop the mequite trees.

The Olive-sided Flycatcher was a special treat to see. This well-dressed flycatcher species breeds throughout the Boreal (Canadian) forest as well as western coniferous forests of the United States. They are only found in the valley during migration. Over the next month and a half, this bird will be moving through the area in fair numbers. Once mid-October comes around, the bulk of the Olive-sided Flycatchers will have passed through the valley. Although we didn’t get to hear this bird’s delightful song, the classic field marks of a pale belly with a vest of dark-gray plumage was easily-noticed. This is the largest of the northern flycatcher species found in North America. In past summer months back in northern Minnesota while watching the beautiful Olive-sided Flycatchers in the boreal bogs, the adults pick out favorite perching spots atop tall standalone trees, and will actively pursue airborne insects in search of food, while nearly always returning to the same “favorite” perching spot. The Olive-sided Flycatchers are heading to central and northwestern South America for the winter months, as well as a few select areas of Central America, where they’ll reside along forest edges where the shrubs and tall snags are present. They are a very cool bird. Be sure to see them while you can!

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Distant Olive-sided Flycatcher, sporting that gorgeous vest of gray feathers!

Buff-breasted Hummingbird

Buff-breasted Hummingbird feeding from a nectar-rich turk’s cap flower.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Buff-bellied Hummingbird at a turk’s cap this morning. They have such an incredible array of colors and finely-detailed feathers throughout their tiny body!

Plain Chachalaca

Plain Chachalaca, looking handsome as ever!

 

Golden-fronted Woodpeckers

Golden-fronted Woodpeckers feeding along a snag this morning.

Below is the eBird list from this morning:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  2
Plain Chachalaca  12
Inca Dove  1
White-winged Dove  35
Mourning Dove  3
Yellow-billed Cuckoo  1
Chimney Swift  15
Ruby-throated/Black-chinned Hummingbird  1
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  5
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  4
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  1
Olive-sided Flycatcher  1
Great Kiskadee  3
Couch’s Kingbird  1
Tropical/Couch’s Kingbird  2
Purple Martin  2
Cave Swallow  5
Clay-colored Thrush  4
Curve-billed Thrasher  2
European Starling  2
Yellow Warbler  1
Olive Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  1
Great-tailed Grackle  3
Lesser Goldfinch  9
House Sparrow  20

 

Good birding!

Erik Bruhnke

 

Bird Walk August 23, 2014

This morning’s bird hike was filled with so many birds… many year-round residents, and some migrants coming through too! With the upcoming hot day making itself known, the Plain Chachalacas were taking it easy by laying-low and foraging in the shade. Some of them even decided to take a morning nap!

Plain Chachalaca

A Plain Chachalaca stays cool and takes a post-breakfast nap

Plain Chachalaca

Plain Chachalacas are very opportunistic with their napping spots. This is one comfy chachalaca!

Plain Chachalaca

Seen in the right light, a Plain Chachalaca’s tail has gorgeous shades of green that glow against their gorgeous brown backsides.

 

A rare female SCARLET TANAGER made herself known by feeding in the mesquite tree near the central pond here at Quinta Mazatlan. During the fall migration, they are a very uncommon migrant within the valley, and are most-expected in the far-eastern regions of Texas, primarily coastal sightings. Your best chance of finding this uncommon bird is during the month of September, but even so, they are never a common sight. It was fun to see this bird moving through here in the valley, as it is a “backyard bird” where I recently moved-from in northern Minnesota. Back in Duluth within the older-aged mixed deciduous woods, Scarlet Tanagers make their presence known during the breeding months. Several migrating Yellow Warblers were seen this morning too! They are delightful little yellow birds, and are one of the earlier-migrating warbler species found within the valley during the fall migration.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

A gorgeous Buff-bellied Hummingbird rests for a few moments on a mesquite branch.

Yellow Warbler

A stunning Yellow Warbler keeps watch and forages through the branches.

Northern Mockingbird bathing

Northern Mockingbirds gotta stay clean! Here is a bathing Northern Mockingbird seen during this morning’s hike.

 

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Golden-fronted Woodpeckers are known for their “sweet tooth,” and will readily enjoy some sips of nectar at the hummingbird feeders!

 

Below is the eBird list from this morning.

Plain Chachalaca  16

Swainson’s Hawk  2

Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  25

Inca Dove  3

White-winged Dove  45

Chimney Swift  5

Buff-bellied Hummingbird  4

Golden-fronted Woodpecker  8     One pair had three young. Very cool to see a family foraging together, and meandering through the habitat.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker  2

Green Parakeet  2

Alder/Willow Flycatcher (Traill’s Flycatcher)  1

Tropical/Couch’s Kingbird  2

Carolina Wren  1

Bewick’s Wren  1

Clay-colored Thrush  2

Curve-billed Thrasher  3

Northern Mockingbird  3

European Starling  2

Yellow Warbler  5

Olive Sparrow  2

Summer Tanager  1    Female

Scarlet Tanager  1     Female. Dusky-yellow head, gray wings, bright-yellow belly. Tanager-like bill (thick at base, medium-length, coming to a sharp point). Gray wings were contrastive/well-defined among the yellow body (not grayish-yellow like Summer Tanager). Seen feeding in a mesquite tree.

Northern Cardinal  2

Red-winged Blackbird  1     One flyover

Orchard Oriole  1     One first-year male

Lesser Goldfinch  5

House Sparrow  7

 

Hope you have a wonderful and bird-filled weekend! Good birding,

Erik Bruhnke