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 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 November 23, 2013

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

Bird Walk 11-23-13 House Sparrow John Brush

Hello all, it was in the 40s this morning… brr! We saw lots of fluffed out birds on the walk this morning, trying to stay warm. They highest congregation of activity was at the feeding stations where the birds were having a hearty breakfast. All the House Sparrows were fluffed up and ravenous this morning. This male looked very cold down by the water feature at the Amphitheater.

Bird Walk 11-23-13 Great Kiskadee John Brush
Even the Great Kiskadees were a little “plumper” than usual. They dive bombed the peanut butter suet, grabbing chunks while zipping down in flight. You can really see the rusty feathers on the wings and tail of this individual. Some similar look flycatchers in Mexico do not have this rusty coloration.
Bird Walk 11-23-13 Curve-billed Thrasher John Brush
This Curve-billed Thrasher was hunkered down in a Night-blooming Cereus and was singing very softly – what I’d call a “subsong” or a “whisper song”.
Bird Walk 11-23-13 Black-crested Titmouse John Brush
The Bird of the Day for me was this adorable little Black-crested Titmouse. It was moving in a mixed species flock, which is a flock of typically small passerine (songbirds) birds often comprised of titmice, warblers, kinglets, and gnatcatchers. On a cold day like this those little birds have to look extra hard for food to maintain their body temperatures.
Stay warm and have a great weekend!
Join us for a Bird and Nature Walk at 8:30am every Tuesday and Saturday through December at Quinta Mazatlan!

Bird Walk: July 27th 2013

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

It was a very pleasant morning – not too hot or too windy (the bane of bird watching in the Valley).

Bird Walk 2013-07-27 Great Kiskadee John Brush

We got to enjoy some great looks at a very cooperative Great Kiskadee – he allowed us to get within just a couple meters. Kiskadees are some of the most charming and charismatic birds of the Rio Grande Valley, and this individual confirmed that! Keep an eye open for some of their interesting food habits, like catching lizards or snatching up small fish.

Bird Walk 2013-07-27 Buff-bellied Hummingbird John Brush

All the birds seemed to want to pose for us this morning, including this lovely Buff-bellied Hummingbird. This is a full adult bird – notice the bright red bill with the black tip, along with the fully colored throat. This is the bird of the 20th anniversary of the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival! Fun fact: hummingbirds are in the same order as swifts!

Bird Walk 2013-07-27 Inca Dove John Brush

This cure pair of Inca Dove captured my attention over at Ruby Pond. Inca Doves are very social little creatures, constantly being with a partner or in a small group. They frequently take part in allopreening, which is when a bird preens the other. This can help strengthen pair bonds between the birds.

Bird Walk 2013-07-27Gray Cracker John Brush

We also couldn’t help but notice some of the great butterflies that are in the park right now. This one is a Gray Cracker – a LRGV specialty.

Bird Walk 2013-07-27 Red-bordered Metalark John Brush

This is another South Texas specialty – the Red-bordered Metalmark (this one is a female).

Bird Walk 2013-07-27 White-angled Sulphur John Brush

To finish things off, this enormous White Angled-Sulphur was drinking nectar from our native Turk’s Cap. Keep your eyes open for all the amazing birds and butterflies in the park – it’s only going to get more active from here!

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

It’s Nest Building Time!

by Colleen Curran Hook

Many birds are busy building nests in May and June, as the weather is nice and our native Thorn Forest is producing fruits and other food.

Kiskadee Waiting To Build Nest

If a tree fork is not available, Kiskadees use man-made poles to support their nest made of grass, moss and bark. Photo by Carlos Hinojosa.

A permanent resident that nests in the Rio Grande Valley is the Great Kiskadee.  It’s a showy flycatcher about 10 inches in size with a black and white striped head and yellow belly.  Both sexes build the nest, which is shaped like a fat rugby ball, 14-18” long, with a side opening, using whatever material is at hand.  They typically build their nest in a tree fork near the top of trees including the Texas Ebony, Mesquite, Hackberry and Cedar Elm.

Kiskadee Nest

Kiskadees build a side entrance to their rugby ball shaped nest. Photo by Carlos Hinojosa.

If a tree top is not available, they may need to use the next best thing, telephone or electric poles.  And if no new opportunities present themselves the next year, they will reuse the nest, and refresh with new grass, moss and bark.  In the photograph, the monogamous couple is refreshing an old nest—thus the nest looks larger than normal.  The side entrance to their home is lined with soft feathers. Kiskadee Bringing Branch To Nest

The Great Kiskadee averages 4 to 5 eggs which incubate 15 to 17 days.  Young birds stay in the nest approximately 3 to 4 weeks before they fly.  The diet of the Kiskadee consists mainly of insects caught in flight, berries, small fish and tadpoles.  Male and female are aware of predators and guard their home, the nest and their young.  Its loud “kis-ka-dee” call is used to scare off predators.

What should you do if you find a baby bird?  In most instances, leave the bird alone.  Exceptions arise, but more often than not you do more harm than good by getting involved in a rescue attempt of a baby bird.  Exceptions may include rescuing the bird from a dog or cat or getting it out of the road.  If you feel the bird fell from its nest too early, you may try and return the bird to its nest.  Birds have a poor sense of smell and very strong parental instincts, which means they will usually continue to care for their young.  Yet they are cautious and may not return for several hours, so during this period it is best not to re-approach the nest and check on the status of the baby.

The bird breeding season is one of the most exciting times of the year to get to know some of our local birds.  Join us for a bird walk to see some nests, eggs, and babies in person!

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

Bird Walk: May 21st, 2013

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

Today the bird walk wanted to focus some on our wonderful array of breeding birds here at Quinta Mazatlan, but of course we also kept our eyes open for all the birds we could see – finished with 37 species for the morning. Bird Walk 2013-05-21 Great Kiskadee John Brush

I started off by taking a few moments to watch a pair of Great Kiskadees hang out near their nest in one of the large Live Oaks near the courtyard. Its a good-sized nest, as you can see in the picture below!

Bird Walk 2013-05-21 Great Kiskadee Nest John Brush

Bird Walk 2013-05-21 White Winged Dove John Brush

This White-winged Dove juvenile (plus its sibling, which you can just the tail of) are being kept under the watchful eye of the adult. Baby White-winged Doves definitely have the “ugly duckling” look – they’re almost cute because they’re so gawky looking!

Bird Walk 2013-05-21 Eastern Kingbird John Brush

There are still migrant bird coming through the Valley, as evidenced by this Eastern Kingbird that was posing for us over by Ruby Pond. You can quite easily see four species of Kingbird in the LRGV (three that nest here), not including the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, which also is a member of the genus Tyrannus.

Bird Walk 2013-05-21 Curve-billed Thrasher Egg John Brush

One of our sharp-eyed visitors spotted this Curve-billed Thrasher egg below a granjeno tree. It looked to already have hatched, and the nest was above it a few feet up, protected by the trees thick double thorns.


The birds that would have hatched from eggs like this are our Birds of the Day – (the great photo was taken by Christine Wolf Williams).   In this picture are four Curve-billed Thrasher chicks! We had seen one of the parents incubating the eggs in the parking lot a few weeks ago, and now the young have hatched are quite well developed. Give it another week or two and they’ll probably be out of the nest, still begging from mom and dad!

Check out more pictures of Spring and Summer babies at Quinta Mazatlan on our Facebook page!

Join us for a Bird and Nature Walk at 8:30am every Saturday throughout the summer (starting June 1st)!