Songbird Stroll October 17th, 2015

Hello all, another beautiful fall day here at Quinta Mazatlan, with a nice mix of migrant and resident birds going about their feathery business.

"Say what now?"

“Say what now?” This Clay-colored Thrush, a younger bird given the mostly brown eye color (it shifts to deep red in older birds), peered curiously from its perch.

I started off by seeing the flock of Clay-colored Thrushes that inhabit the park. These birds were enjoying the fruits of an Anacua tree (Ehretia anacua). They are always fun to see, but especially fun to hear – their meow-like calls and subtle are always a welcome sound.

Common Pauraque (2)

We also saw two of our resident Common Pauraques in their usual haunt. Perhaps it was just due to lighting, but the second individual (picture below) looked to have more gray in its plumage. According to Birds of North America “In Texas, upperparts of adult male brownish gray to tawny, mottled, spotted, and vermiculated with dusky brown, buff, and black.” Perhaps the difference was just variation in plumage, or perhaps it is related to age and sex.

Common Pauraque (1)

Gray Hawk QM (1)

My favorite bird of the day was this beautiful adult Gray Hawk. It flew into a palm, called loudly for a few minutes, and proceeded to fly to and call from the golf course next door. These raptors maintain small numbers in urban areas in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and I have seen them regularly (albeit infrequently) in Quinta Mazatlan and south McAllen neighborhoods. What a classy South Texas Specialty Bird!

As always the full list of birds is below!

John Brush

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  40
Plain Chachalaca  10
Cooper’s Hawk  1
Inca Dove  5
White-tipped Dove  2
White-winged Dove  16
Common Pauraque  2
Chimney Swift  8
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  3
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  3
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  6
Great Kiskadee  4
Couch’s Kingbird  1
Green Jay  5
Barn Swallow  2
Black-crested Titmouse  3
House Wren  4
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  6
Clay-colored Thrush  6
Curve-billed Thrasher  2
Long-billed Thrasher  2
Northern Mockingbird  8
European Starling  3
Orange-crowned Warbler  2
Common Yellowthroat  1
American Redstart  2
Yellow Warbler  1
Wilson’s Warbler  3
Olive Sparrow  3
Northern Cardinal  3
Indigo Bunting  6
Dickcissel  1
Great-tailed Grackle  12
House Sparrow  20



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

Bird Hike March 24, 2015

Phew, what a thrilling morning of birding it was! As the early-morning fog lifted, the air quickly dried and the skies warmed with the radiant sunlight. Plain Chachalacas could be heard singing through the entire morning. We were treated to wonderful looks of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, flitting about and feeding within arm’s reach of some of the visiting birders. We stood still, and let this beautiful migrant feed as it would. The close views provided learning experiences and memories that no camera could ever attempt to capture. What an incredibly beautiful little bird those kinglets are!

As the morning progressed, a light trickle of Broad-winged Hawks were seen streaming through the deep blue sky. While watching the hawks streaming overhead, we quickly realized that the few-dozen birds were being followed by over two hundred additional Broad-winged Hawks. It was so amazing! The kettles of Broad-winged Hawks continued through the latter half of the Songbird Stroll, and by the end of the stroll this morning, a conservative estimate of at least 1,700 Broad-winged Hawks had flown by!


A migrating adult Swainson’s Hawk checks us out as it migrates overhead.

BWHA kettle

Here is one of the many kettles of Broad-winged Hawks that pushed north this morning. It is an incredible sight to see so many migrating birds riding thermals together. These Broad-winged Hawks have left their wintering grounds, and are headed north to the northern and eastern forests of North America in search of a nesting site! This beautiful species can be found breeding in deciduous and mixed forests.

BWHA two of them

Two beautiful adult Broad-winged Hawks zip overhead. Note the stocky wings, straight trailing edge of the wing, and pale underside of their wings.


Here is a closeup of an adult Broad-winged Hawk flying overhead from this morning. What field marks stand out to you when looking at this picture? Keep your eyes out for more masses of Broad-winged Hawks to come through the Valley very soon!


This flock of 70 White Ibis flew overhead this morning.


One of the unexpected finds this morning was not just one, not two, but three Laughing Gulls!

PLCH calling

The Plain Chachalacas were very vocal this morning. They could be heard calling throughout the entire Songbird Stroll! Both male and female Plain Chachalacas have the red throat patch.


Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks have been busy chattering and whistling as they look for the perfect tree cavity to raise their young! The whistling-ducks are such a fun and unique species.


The Clay-colored Thrushes wowed our eyes through binoculars, once again. This individual had found a muddy patch of soil in the middle of the grass, and was churning up all kinds of good-eats!


The resident Eastern Screech-Owl was a treat to see, like always! The Eastern Screech-Owls found here in south Texas are of the McCall’s race, which is a Mexican race of the Eastern Screech-Owl species.

javelina peccary

We had great looks at the javelina today. Have you seen this beautiful animal along our trails yet?

With the dry southern winds outside last night and today were just right for migrating birds to push through the area! The kettles of raptors wowed us, and the bird diversity seen this morning was quite exciting. Despite seeing 45 bird species today, we did not find either of the two Common Pauraques. That is one of the many treats to search for, during this Saturday’s Songbird Stroll!

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  200
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Anhinga  3
White Ibis  70

Turkey Vulture   6

Sharp-shinned Hawk  1
Cooper’s Hawk  6
Broad-winged Hawk  1700
Gray Hawk  1
Swainson’s Hawk  5
Red-tailed Hawk  2
American Coot  1
Laughing Gull  3
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  2
Inca Dove  6
White-winged Dove  7
Mourning Dove  1
Eastern Screech-Owl  1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  1
hummingbird sp.  1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  9
Red-crowned Parrot  8
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet  1
Eastern Phoebe  1
Great Kiskadee  14
Couch’s Kingbird  2
Tropical/Couch’s Kingbird  1
Green Jay  2
Tree Swallow  5
Cliff Swallow  2
Cave Swallow  6
Black-crested Titmouse  1
House Wren  3
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Clay-colored Thrush  5
Curve-billed Thrasher  5
Northern Mockingbird  5
European Starling  2
Olive Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  1
Red-winged Blackbird  3
Great-tailed Grackle  5
Brown-headed Cowbird  1
Lesser Goldfinch  3
House Sparrow  12

Hope to see you at the upcoming Songbird Stroll this Saturday. We meet at the main house at 8:30. Until then, good birding!
Erik Bruhnke

Bird Hike February 24, 2015

All five Songbird Stroll participants bundled up well as we birded through the trails of Quinta Mazatlan this morning. The chachalacas were fluffed up and huddled close to each other throughout most of the morning. Being from the north, I found these temperatures to be refreshing, however for the year-round wildlife found throughout the Rio Grande Valley, these cool temps (especially this late in the winter season) came as a bit of a shock to the wildlife. Great Kiskadees were feeding readily at the suet and orange halves. In between feeding sessions, these birds would perch on a branch and rouse their feathers to retain their warmth. One Gray Catbird was seen this morning, staying quite low to the ground. After watching it for a few minutes, it scratched around the leaf litter in search of a meal. We can greatly help birds out by planting native vegetation and offering birdfeeders. Birds benefit greatly from birdfeeders and native habitat, which are especially important when cold fronts and inclement weather comes through.


Gray Catbird, an uncommon but regular winter resident of the Rio Grande Valley

Participants were treated to great views of fun birds at the birdfeeding stations and along Birding Creek. After a few minutes of enjoying the presence of the flurry of birds, a swift-moving Sharp-shinned Hawk took flight overhead and landed atop a nearby perch, keeping its eye out for sudden movements for a potential meal. Following the Sharp-shinned Hawk was a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk. This gorgeous mid-sized accipiter was molting from juvenile plumage into its first set of adult feathers. The belly feathers were mostly white, and vertically-streaked in brown markings’ however the underwings and flanks of the birds were beginning to show the horizontally-barred in rufous appearance. These rufous feathers are seen throughout the entire underbelly on full-adult Cooper’s Hawks (as well as adult Sharp-shinned Hawks too).


Sharp-shinned Hawk taking flight.


The hind end of a White-eyed Vireo


Clay-colored Thrush


Common Pauraque, resting on the ground this morning. Note how fluffed up he is, to stay warm during this cold front.


Great Kiskadee and Green Jay.

PLCH fluffy

Some of the Plain Chachalacas were roosting shoulder-to-shoulder to stay warm.

PLCH feet

Three sets of Plain Chachalaca feet, lined up on the branch.


Eastern Cottontail

The eBird list from this morning’s Songbird Stroll is below.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  350
Plain Chachalaca  15
Sharp-shinned Hawk  1
Cooper’s Hawk  1
Harris’s Hawk  1
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  1
Great Kiskadee  3
Tropical Kingbird  2
Black-crested Titmouse  2
House Wren  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  2
Clay-colored Thrush  7
Orange-crowned Warbler  3
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1
Olive Sparrow  3
Northern Cardinal  2
Red-winged Blackbird  1
Great-tailed Grackle  3
House Sparrow  2

Good birding,

Erik Bruhnke

Bird Walk September 23, 2014

Lines of migrating raptors traced throughout the upper limits of the sky. Migrating warblers were seen among the branches, savoring the recent hatch of airborne insects. It was an amazing morning to be out, witnessing the spectacle of bird migration, as well as several great views of butterflies and a southern toad species…

Like many mornings, the Great Kiskadees charmed the air with their bubbly chatter and stellar appearance. Their wings are toned of dark grays and rufous-reds, with a belly of bright yellow, all topped-off with a sharp mask of black and white. Look closely, and you might even get to see their neon yellow stripe along the crown on their head! Great Kiskadees are year-round residents at Quinta Mazatlan.

Great Kiskadee taking flight

Great Kiskadee taking flight

Clay-colored Thrushes were seen feeding in two small groups. Each of the thrushes were busy foraging throughout the many nooks and crannies in the leaf litter and branch thickets. The young-of-the-year Clay-colored Thrushes are a little scruffy-looking, with grayish heads and scruffy bellies, as they molt into their clean-cut set of beautiful golden-brown and dark-chocolate-colored feathers.

Clay-colored Thrush

Clay-colored Thrush

Clay-colored thrushes

Can you find all three Clay-colored Thrushes in this photo?

The ever-squawking Green Parakeets were seen feeding on anacua berries. Their lime green plumage glowed against the blue morning sky. Through close observation, we could even see their rosy-purple eye rings and neon yellow leg feathers. They are a very flashy bird, and are often heard before they are seen.

Green Parakeet

Green Parakeet

Several fiery skippers were seen flying and feeding throughout the grasses and flowers in ebony grove. While crouching on the ground, I was able to get pictures of two of them in the same picture, with a side-profile as well as a back-profile of this butterfly species.

Fiery Skipper

Fiery Skippers. Note the positioning of the orange spots along the side of the wing.

Fiery Skipper

Fiery Skippers. Note the “black-toothed” margins along his hindwing.

One very content gulf coast toad was seen hopping across the the path, as it made its way from the expanses of leaf litter along the perimeter of a puddle of water. This is a primarily-Mexican species of toad, that can be found throughout central Texas through southern Texas, as well as the southern edge of eastern Texas. They are more common near the coast, and can be found as far “north” as the Gulf of Mexico coastline of Louisiana.

Gulf Coast Toad

Gulf Coast Toad

Late September is one of the prime times of fall migration to see migrating raptors coming through in large numbers. Several small kettles (migrating groups) of raptors were seen overhead, containing both Broad-winged Hawks and Mississippi Kites. Can you identify both of the birds shown below? Like all of the other photos in this blog, these two raptor photos were taken on the bird walk. To see the answer, position your cursor on the picture for a moment to let the answer appear. Get your binoculars out, field guides ready, and keep your eyes to the skies!

Mississippi Kite

Broad-winged Hawk

Below are the birds seen during this morning’s bird walk at Quinta Mazatlan.

Plain Chachalaca  12
Mississippi Kite  2
Broad-winged Hawk  26
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  4
Inca Dove  11
White-winged Dove  10
Mourning Dove  3
Chimney Swift  20
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  2
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  5
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  4
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  2
Green Parakeet  4
Great Kiskadee  2
Couch’s Kingbird  1
Green Jay  1
Purple Martin  1
Tree Swallow  1
Cave Swallow  2
Carolina Wren  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
Clay-colored Thrush  8
Curve-billed Thrasher  2
Northern Mockingbird  3
European Starling  2
American Redstart  1
Wilson’s Warbler  1
Olive Sparrow  3
Great-tailed Grackle  1
Orchard Oriole  1
Lesser Goldfinch  3
House Sparrow  7


Good birding,

Erik Bruhnke

Bird Walk August 12, 2014

Fledgling birds were really out and about this morning. Three first-year Inca Doves were seen lined-up on an ebony branch, the speckle-chested juvenile Northern Mockingbirds were calling throughout the thickets, and the young Clay-colored Thrushes scratched throughout the leaf litter on the ground in search of an insect-based meal. The Plain Chachalaca chicks are amazingly cute right now. In addition to their golden-brown downy bodies, they have a line of black feathers that runs along the central part of their head, from front to back. Before we know it, these little birds will be fully-grown, foraging on their own!

Clay-colored Thrush

A juvenile Clay-colored Thrush forages on the ground.

Plain Chachalaca chick

A Plain Chachalaca chick watches mom and dad closely, learning how to eat and what to eat.

A nesling Golden-fronted Woodpecker keeps watch over the sounds of humans below.

A nestling Golden-fronted Woodpecker keeps watch over the sounds of humans below.

An Olive Sparrow forages along a branch this morning.

An Olive Sparrow forages along a branch this morning.

Hummingbirds thrive here at Quinta Mazatlan. The Buff-bellied Hummingbirds take little breaks to perch on branches, in between their feeding frenzies when they hover around the array of colorful flowers. It’s fun to hear their wings hum as they feed nearby! Keep your eyes and ears out for these beautiful year-round residents here in the valley.

A Buff-bellied Hummingbird takes a breakfast break

A Buff-bellied Hummingbird takes a breakfast break

One recently-arrived Yellow Warbler was seen this morning. This species is one of the earlier birds to migrate through the area during fall migration.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  1
Plain Chachalaca  20
Green Heron  1
Inca Dove  9
White-winged Dove  30
Mourning Dove  3
Chimney Swift  2
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  2
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  3
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  1
Green Parakeet  2
Great Kiskadee  2
Couch’s Kingbird  3
Purple Martin  5
Carolina Wren  1
Clay-colored Thrush  3
Curve-billed Thrasher  5
Northern Mockingbird  3
European Starling  2
Yellow Warbler  1     female
Olive Sparrow  2
Great-tailed Grackle  9
Lesser Goldfinch  6
House Sparrow  10


Good birding,

Erik Bruhnke

Bird Walk Saturday 1/18/2014

Written and photographed by Interpretive Guide John Brush

Hello all, it was yet another wonderful day to be outside and enjoying nature. A nice group of visitors joined me for our 8:30 bird walk, and we enjoyed an hours walk around the trails. We briefly ran into a local birder, Mary Beth, who had a few birds we missed on the morning (like flyover Greater White-fronted Goose), and we finished with a decent 26 species. You can view the full list here.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker 1-18-2014

We saw quite a few Golden-fronted Woodpeckers out in the park, and they all really shone in the morning light. In this shot you can really see the supportive action of the stiff tail feathers!

Red-tailed Hawk (michael miller cam)

A Red-tailed Hawk (archive shot) has been foraging in and around the park for the past few weeks. This species would be an excellent example of a typical hawk in the genus Buteo, which has many members in North America. Red-tailed Hawks have an incredible array of plumages (check out this rufous morph here) and so can be a source of confusion for beginning birders.

Clay-colored Thrush QM 1-18-2014

Our Bird of the Day was the Clay-colored Thrush. We saw a small flock of them foraging for fallen fruits out in the open, then this one perched right above our heads in a mesquite tree. You can really see the red eye!

Bird walks are offered Tuesdays and Saturdays at 8:30 am – free with price of admission ($3 adults/$2 seniors and children)