August 1, 2015 Songbird Stroll

Although it is only early August, migration is just around the corner. Many songbirds are currently undergoing zugenruhe, which is migratory restlessness.  Many of the birds from the Canadian Boreal forest, northern prairies, northern mountains, and many other northern ecosystems will be passing through south Texas over the next few months.  Birds migrate to follow their favored food sources.

One very ambitious juvenile Ruby-throated Hummingbird was seen at Quinta Mazatlan today!  Late August is when these beautiful birds begin to show up in their regular numbers for the southbound migration, and this species will be quite numerous in the Lower Rio Grande Valley come September. Get those hummingbird feeders ready with a solution of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water, and be sure to keep them clean with fresh nectar. The hummingbirds will thank you!

RTHU juvenile

Here a juvenile Ruby-throated Hummingbird takes a break from catching gnats in the air.


An impressively cute Common Pauraque rests on our forest floor while sporting those stout yet growing tail feathers!

Water often becomes scarce this time of year. The mid-day heat and blustery air wicks the land of standing water. Drought-resistant plants find these conditions tolerable, while many non-native plants struggle to survive on their own. Despite the intense heat and dry substrate various trees and low-growing plants are flowering and going to seed, with much more of this plant reproduction to come. With flowers blooming and seeds being produced, many birds will find food plentiful through the fall season.

PLCH drinking

A Plain Chachalaca drinks from one of our birdbaths.


“Francis”, our resident javelina, is quite shy and will often wait until the coast is clear to enjoy birdseed that spills to the ground.

roseate skimmer

Roseate skimmer over Birding Creek.


Here is a Swainson’s Hawk seen overhead. This raptor species is known for its two-toned undersides and lengthy, pointed wings.


A Couch’s Kingbird keeps watch and preens in the early morning light.


The Eastern Screech-Owl is doing well today!


Inca Dove. Look closely and you’ll see that this dove’s right leg is banded!

OLSP backside

The secretive Olive Sparrow searches for seeds and insects on the forest floor. Their colors and markings are subtle yet so beautiful! The Olive Sparrow get their name from the color on their backside, as seen from this photo.

Here is the eBird list from today’s Songbird Stroll.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  2
Plain Chachalaca  16
Gray Hawk  1
Swainson’s Hawk  2
Black-necked Stilt  1     Flew from the Ebony Grove pond!
Killdeer  1     Ebony Grove pond visitor
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  1
Inca Dove  18
White-tipped Dove  2
White-winged Dove  25
Mourning Dove  2
Yellow-billed Cuckoo  1
Eastern Screech-Owl  1
Common Nighthawk  1
Common Pauraque  1
Chimney Swift  16
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1     Juvenile
hummingbird sp.  1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  3
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  1
Green Parakeet  8
Great Kiskadee  3
Couch’s Kingbird  1
White-eyed Vireo  1
Green Jay  2
Purple Martin  30
Cave Swallow  2
Black-crested Titmouse  2
Carolina Wren  2
Clay-colored Thrush  8
Curve-billed Thrasher  3
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  2
Olive Sparrow  2
Great-tailed Grackle  3
Orchard Oriole  1     Male
Hooded Oriole  1     Flyover
Lesser Goldfinch  2
House Sparrow  30

Good birding. Hope to see you at the upcoming Songbird Strolls!

Erik Bruhnke


Bird Walk July 5th, 2014

Bird Report written and photographed by John Brush

???????????????????????????????One of my favorite individual trees at Quinta Mazatlan is a large, lush Texas Ebony located outside the Discovery Center. It gets great light on it in the mornings, and a pair of Couch’s Kingbirds (pictured above) have been nesting in it this summer. The Texas Ebony is a great tree for a wide variety of nesting birds.

???????????????????????????????The Plain Chachalaca chick is one of the more cute sights in the park. They stick pretty close to their parents, and will dash after the adult when its time to move on.

Tropical Kingbird fledglingThis is our other “South Texas specialty” kingbird, the Tropical Kingbird. A family group came in to the trees by Ruby Pond. The one pictured above is a fledgling, judging by its shorter, developing tail feather. I made it a three kingbird morning when a family group of Western Kingbirds flew in.

Full list below:

Plain Chachalaca  8     saw one young chick
White-winged Dove  10
Inca Dove  3
Chimney Swift  5
Black-chinned Hummingbird  1
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  3
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  6
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  1
Brown-crested Flycatcher  3
Great Kiskadee  2
Tropical Kingbird  4     family group
Couch’s Kingbird  2
Western Kingbird  3     family group flying around QM – seen a few times over past week
Black-crested Titmouse  2
Carolina Wren  1
Clay-colored Thrush  3
Curve-billed Thrasher  4
Long-billed Thrasher  3
Northern Mockingbird  4
Olive Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  2
Great-tailed Grackle  3
Bronzed Cowbird  1
Brown-headed Cowbird  1
Orchard Oriole  5
Hooded Oriole  1
Lesser Goldfinch  2
House Sparrow  20

Bird Walk May 24, 2014

Bird reports are written and photographed by John Brush

Hello all,

Another beautiful morning at Quinta Mazatlan. We had some light sprinkles for a moment and partly cloudy skies, but our south Texas sun broke through for most of the walk. There has been a Long-billed Thrasher that is always singing from the top of the same Anacua tree near the amphitheater. He, as always, wowed all of us on the walk with his musical prowess.

While we were watching the thrasher, a Couch’s Kingbird came up and perched nearby. While Couch’s Kingbirds are tyrant-flycatchers and eat many insects, they also are frugivores. This individual was making short sallies and plucking anacua fruits off the tree.

The Plain Chachalaca is what I would say the most seen bird at Quinta Mazatlan. In fact, our top three birds with the highest frequency of sightings are: Golden-fronted Woodpecker (84.3%), Plain Chachalaca (83.8%), and Great Kiskadee (82.0%).

As usual, full bird list from the walk is below:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck 2     flyover

Plain Chachalaca 7

Cattle Egret 1

White-winged Dove 12

Inca Dove 2

Yellow-billed Cuckoo 1

Eastern Screech-Owl (McCall’s) 1

Chimney Swift 5

Buff-bellied Hummingbird 1

Golden-fronted Woodpecker 5

Green Parakeet 3

Red-crowned Parrot 2     eating anacua fruits

Brown-crested Flycatcher 2

Great Kiskadee 4

Couch’s Kingbird 2

Green Jay 1

Clay-colored Thrush 1

Curve-billed Thrasher 2

Long-billed Thrasher 1

Northern Mockingbird 1

European Starling 4

Common Yellowthroat 1

Magnolia Warbler 1

Olive Sparrow 2

Northern Cardinal 1

Great-tailed Grackle 3

Bronzed Cowbird 1

Brown-headed Cowbird 1

Lesser Goldfinch 1

House Sparrow 50

Bird Walk: August 3rd, 2013

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

It was a lovely tour this morning, quite leisurely and pleasant. We enjoyed a total of 34 species; most of them summer/resident birds, but a some early migrants as well, such as Orchard Oriole.

Bird Walk 2013-08-03 Northern Mockingbird John Brush

I have the unfortunate tendency to say “just a mockingbird” or “just a grackle” on occasion. While I am trying to rid myself of that habit, I want to clarify that it is not a statement of the birds value. All birds have their own intrinsic value, and common species often are extremely valuable for scientific research, whether its getting data on bird ecology, physiology, or bird behaviors. Rather, when I (and probably other birders) say “just a ____”, it is more an effect of being able to quickly sort through birds in the field, switching focus from a bird we may not need much time to ID to a bird that perhaps is a little more difficult to lay eyes on. The above photo is one of my favorites – I spent about 20 minutes just watching this mockingbird sing, forage, and fly back and forth between perches. The beauty of its subtle gray plumage and fine lines is undeniable. It’s not “just” a mockingbird – it is a mockingbird.

Bird Walk 2013-08-03 Couch's Kingbird John Brush

This Couch’s Kingbird put on quite the show for us – it made short sallies from various perches to snag the berries of a Snail-seed Vine. In the Rio Grande Valley, Couch’s Kingbirds tend to eat more fruits and berries than the similar looking Tropical Kingbird. The above bird has very fine, fresh looking plumage (light gray head, bright-tipped coverts).

Bird Walk 2013-08-03 Green Jay John Brush

One of our resident Green Jays made a fleeting appearance this morning (photo from archive). Though much more reclusive during the summer at Quinta Mazatlan, Green Jays will still give some jaw-dropping looks if you’re willing to spend some time waiting. Patience is an important virtue for bird watching!

Join us for a Bird and Nature Walk at 8:30am every Saturday throughout the summer at Quinta Mazatlan!

Bird Walk: March 12th, 2013

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

Hello all,
It was a quiet bird walk this morning, both in terms of group size and bird activity. But things got more lively as the morning progressed and ended up being a fine walk.
Bird Walk 2013-03-12 Inca Dove John Brush
We spent an ample amount of time down in the parking lot area, and had a good time looking at a Inca Dove sitting on its nest. The nest is in a Guamuchil tree right as you walk towards the entry road from the parking lot. Both sexes will incubate in this species, so the bird could either be a male or a female. Many doves start nesting early in the year (sometimes even year-round!), so it isn’t surprising to this them nesting already.
Bird Walk 2013-03-12 Curve-Billed Thrasher John Brush
We also saw Curve-billed Thrashers building a nest in a tree between the Discovery Center and the Kitchen. The pair brought nesting material in and spent some time arranging it on the nest. You can just make out the big jumble of twigs that make up the nest in the picture below.
Bird Walk 2013-03-12 Curve-Billed Thrasher Nest John Brush
Bird Walk 2013-03-12 Couch's Kingbird John Brush
The Bird of the Day was our returning Couch’s Kingbirds (notice the one in the back coming in for the attack!)  Couch’s Kingbirds are what we call “facultative” migrants. That is, it varies year by year whether they will migrate out of the Valley or not. Some years they can be fairly easy to find in the winter, whereas this year they ended up almost all disappearing. They are just returning to the Valley in more numbers, and will start setting up breeding territories. Mary Thorn came up with a great way to remember the differences in the calls of the Couch’s versus the Tropical Kingbird – the Couch’s is sitting on a couch waiting for a beer (their call is a “che-beer!”). Whereas the Tropical trills.

Have a good spring break!

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