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 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 Walk July 8, 2014

Bird Report written and photographed by John Brush

Eastern Screech-Owl juveIt was another sunny and warm summer morning at Quinta Mazatlan, and with lots of bird activity. Orchard Orioles are starting to migrate back through as they make their journey south. One of the most exciting sights of the morning was this young Eastern Screech-Owl. After looking at us sleepily a few moments, it suddenly cracked it eyes open and gave us this wonderful look. This is the first juvenile screech-owl I’ve seen in the park this summer.

Cane ToadWe don’t only take time to look at birds on the walk – we love enjoying all the wonderful wildlife Quinta Mazatlan has to offer. This Cane Toad sat stoically by a water feature.

Texas Spiny Lizard (1)Another fun non-bird sighting was this Texas Spiny Lizard. It was thoroughly unafraid of us. Look at how long its claws are – great for climbing trees!

Bronzed Cowbird in HOOR nestThe mystery of what species the nestling in the Hooded Oriole nest was solved today. The dark feathers and big bill both indicate its a cowbird, and most likely Bronzed. Hooded Orioles get parasitized by cowbirds very commonly, and it has affected their population in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Full Bird List:

Plain Chachalaca  7     chicks of different ages in same group – one newly hatched and one much older
Green Heron  1
White-winged Dove  20
Inca Dove  2
Eastern Screech-Owl (McCall’s)  1     juvenile
Chimney Swift  10
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  2
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  6
Green Parakeet  2
Brown-crested Flycatcher  1
Great Kiskadee  3
Couch’s Kingbird  2
Purple Martin  8
Black-crested Titmouse  1
Carolina Wren  2
Clay-colored Thrush  3
Curve-billed Thrasher  5
Long-billed Thrasher  2
Northern Mockingbird  3
European Starling  1
Olive Sparrow  3
Northern Cardinal  1
Bronzed Cowbird  1     nestling in Hooded Oriole nest
Orchard Oriole  5
Lesser Goldfinch  1
House Sparrow  15

Bird Walk May 20th, 2014

Bird Reports are written and photographed by Interpretive Guide/Naturalist John Brush

Eastern Kingbird
It was a good day to enjoy looking at flycatchers – I had 6 different species on the morning. It started off with seeing a couple Eastern Kingbirds, which are easy to tell from the other species of kingbird in the area due to the lack of yellow and the black cap and back. They only pass through in migration; the closest area they breed is North and Eastern Texas, starting around the general vicinity of Houston.

Acadian and YB Flycatcher collage
Flycatchers in the genus Empidonax can be very tough to tell apart. They all are small, all have wingbars, and have subtle-to-no differences in plumage. The above photo has two different species of Empidonax: the top is the Acadian Flycatcher (identified by its larger, longer bill and its “peace” calls) and the bottom is the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (proportionally smaller bill, yellow on throat (whitish in Acadian). We have five regular Empidonax flycatchers that migrate through the area, driving birders crazy!

In the summer, Green Jays can in general get a little less easy to see, but don’t tell that to this individual bird! It came right out in front of me, about two meters away, and perched calmly on a soapberry branch. It is these special moments that make birding so wonderful – you never know when you’ll get an intimate viewing of a beautiful bird.

Eastern Screech-Owl
The Bird of the Day, just because I hadn’t seen one in the park since March, was this Eastern Screech-Owl. A group of visiting birders from San Diego had been hoping to see one, so I was quite pleased it decided to make an appearance. Thank you, Screechy! As always, full bird list from the walk is below. Enjoy!

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck 7

Plain Chachalaca 8

White-winged Dove 26

Inca Dove 4

Eastern Screech-Owl (McCall’s) 1

Chimney Swift 4

Ruby-throated/Black-chinned Hummingbird 1

Buff-bellied Hummingbird 1

Golden-fronted Woodpecker 6

Ladder-backed Woodpecker 1

Eastern Wood-Pewee 3

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1

Acadian Flycatcher 2

Brown-crested Flycatcher 2

Great Kiskadee 3

Eastern Kingbird 2

Green Jay 1

Purple Martin 1

Carolina Wren 3     Family Group

Curve-billed Thrasher 6

Long-billed Thrasher 2

Northern Mockingbird 5

European Starling 1

Yellow Warbler 2

Olive Sparrow 2

Northern Cardinal 2

Red-winged Blackbird 1

Great-tailed Grackle 3

Brown-headed Cowbird 1

Orchard Oriole 1

Hooded Oriole 1

Lesser Goldfinch 2

House Sparrow 35

Bird Walk November 16, 2013

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

Bird Walk 11-16-13 Blue-headed Vireo John Brush

With our bird feeding and winter in full swing the park continues to be hopping with birds. The bird walk started off great with looks at some of our typical winter birds, like Nashville Warbler, and was a great introduction to birding in the park. The morning finished with 34 species of bird (
One of the first birds we saw was a Blue-headed Vireo (archive picture). These birds have a whitish underside and a blue-gray cap with white spectacles around the eyes. Like typical vireos, they forage for insects and other arthropods in trees by working their way slowly through the foliage.
Bird Walk 11-16-13 Summer Tanager John Brush
This female Summer Tanager was foraging in a fruiting anacua tree behind the cottage. We first heard this bird doing the diagnostic “pit-ti-tuck” call as it flew by, then got great looks a little later. This is another winter resident (though formerly bred in the LRGV). The males are a bright red while the females are orange/yellow.
Bird Walk 11-16-13 Eastern Screech-Owl John Brush
One of our resident Eastern Screech-Owls poked its head out from one of its favorite roosting sites. We have a different subspecies of these owls in the LRGV called the McCall’s Eastern Screech-Owl, and is found predominantly in South Texas and Northern Mexico. These little owls eat many insects and rodents, so its great to have them around!
Bird Walk 11-16-13 Clay-colored Thrush John Brush
One of my favorite South Texas species is the Clay-colored Thrush, and Quinta Mazatlan is one of the best spots to see them – they seem to pose for us on the walks! They often forage on the ground, picking up fallen fruits and finding arthropods in the leaf litter.
Join us for a Bird and Nature Walk at 8:30am every Tuesday and Saturday through December at Quinta Mazatlan!



The Big Sit at Quinta Mazatlan was a fun-filled, bird-filled time at our wooded Amphitheater. We beat last years list of 44 species with our final count of 49 species of bird – a pretty good morning!

The first bird that we put onto our list was this Eastern Screech-Owl. We heard it calling before dawn, then got to see it move into a palm tree cavity to roost. It would stick its head out off and on throughout the morning, giving visitors some great looks.

BBEH collage

Buff-bellied Hummingbirds came and went all day, chasing each other and drinking from our feeders and Turk’s Cap gardens. This individual gave us some great looks – we could even see the spattering of pollen on its forehead (picture on the right).

Green Jay QM

This Green Jay was another fan favorite. It would call from within the surrounding trees, well camouflaged in the dappled green, but would flash its yellow tail as it came out to grab peanuts. The bird of the day was a flyover juvenile Gray Hawk (unpictured) that had been seen in the park days prior. Thanks to everyone who came out and did some birding – we hope to see you again! You can view the full checklist for the our Big Sit here:

Bird Walk: June 15th, 2013

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

Aside from running in to Mary Beth Stowe, an excellent local birder, it was the regulars who joined me for the bird walk. We didn’t tally a huge species list, but that’s to be expected this time of year. We did, as always, have a good time seeing some of our resident breeders.

Bird Walk 2013-06-15 Chachalaca John Brush

Plain Chachalacas had a couple choruses this morning. When they fluff out their feathers they become quite striking birds! I have still yet to see, personally, baby chachalacas this year, though I know some other staff members have seen them.

Bird Walk 2013-06-15 Golden-Fronted Woodpecker John Brush

This female Golden-fronted Woodpecker is probably ready to start her second brood of the season, if she hasn’t already. I had been keeping an eye on her and her mate’s first nest, and I think they already fledged young from the first brood. Time to do it all over again!

Bird Walk 2013-06-15 Eastern Screech Owl John Brush

We saw two Eastern Screech-Owls this morning: one in the usual spot along bougainvillea lane, and the other poking its head out into the bright sun near the amphitheater. Always good to confirm we have a pair in the park, and I’m sure they have or will nest this year.

Bird Walk 2013-06-15 Shrike Roach Impale John Brush

This isn’t a picture of a bird, but its certainly evidence of one! This looks to be the work of a Loggerhead Shrike, which is known to impale prey for consumption or storage. Victory for the shrike – nice to know those roaches get eaten, too!

Bird Walk 2013-06-15 Curve-billed Thrasher Eggs John Brush

One pair of Curve-billed Thrashers are on their second brood of the summer. They built another nest in the same cactus, and these four beautiful eggs are being incubated. Both sexes will help incubate the eggs during the two week period until hatching.

Have a good week!

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