August 15, 2015 Songbird Stroll

We’re delving more into migration as each day passes. Throughout the entire Lower Rio Grande Valley birding hotspots are finding the early migrants beginning to trickle through. Not just one, but two, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were seen this morning. In addition to a few more migrating birds showing up each day, butterflies wander and fly around different areas. The meandering butterflies put on quite a show, especially between September and the month of November.

Good looks at a Yellow-billed Cuckoo always make for a great morning! Look at those big and beautiful white tail spots at the end of each feather.

INDO yoga

We even have yoga at Quinta Mazatlan. Here is an Inca Dove stretching its wings and back while its neighbor preens a few feathers.

red-bordered metalmark

Red-bordered metalmark. This beauty is about the size of a quarter.


This Plain Chachalaca kept watch as birders walked through our entrance gate. The chachalacas are like a welcoming crew!


Great-tailed Grackles are a common bird throughout the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Some of them have started to lose their tail feathers, which will be replaced in the months to come. The timing of their tail molt just happens to be when raptors and songbirds begin showing up in south Texas.


Green Parakeets keep watch from their favorite guard post at the entrance to Ebony Grove.

During each songbird stroll we visit many unique areas along our trails. The open landscape and scattered trees of Ebony Grove provide great habitat for Loggerhead Shrikes, Northern Mockingbirds, dozens of Inca Doves, and our Green Parakeets which have taken up residence in the adjacent palm snags. We were treated to seeing them protect their cavities this morning. While observing them from a distance they decided to cling along the palm trunk and vocalize continually. Parakeets are intelligent birds, and we are lucky to have them living right here in our backyard! Have you seen them yet?

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

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  12     Flyover
Plain Chachalaca  16
Turkey Vulture  1
Inca Dove  12
White-tipped Dove  3
White-winged Dove  36
Yellow-billed Cuckoo  1
Eastern Screech-Owl (McCall’s)  1
Common Nighthawk  1
Common Pauraque  1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  2
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  3
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  6
Green Parakeet  8
Great Kiskadee  7
Couch’s Kingbird  3
White-eyed Vireo  2     One near the casita, one in the amphitheater
Green Jay  4
Cave Swallow  3
Black-crested Titmouse  2
Clay-colored Thrush  5
Curve-billed Thrasher  6
Long-billed Thrasher  2
Northern Mockingbird  3
Olive Sparrow  4
Summer Tanager  1     Near the casita
Northern Cardinal  1     Female
Great-tailed Grackle  8
Bronzed Cowbird  2     Emerald Lawn
Orchard Oriole  2     Male and female at Emerald Lawn
Lesser Goldfinch  5
House Sparrow  43

Good birding,

Kelly Smith


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 28, 2015

The cavity-nesting birds put on quite a show this morning! The three beautiful palm snags  found along the trailhead of our Ebony Grove are really drawing a lot of attention this spring, which is why we leave the snags in the environment. In past years we’ve had Green Parakeets nesting inside of the snag, as well as Golden-fronted Woodpeckers and even Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks. Late March and April is the time of year when birds are looking for the best-looking nesting sites, as they prepare to raise young throughout the duration of the spring and summer months. This morning we had three Green Parakeets fly over us at Ebony Grove, and to our surprise one of the whistling-ducks went inside the largest cavity within the snag.

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks are a beautiful and somewhat clown-like duck species that nests in large tree cavities. We purposely leave the intact palm snags throughout our trails, to provide year-round food for the woodpeckers, and for the crucial (and hard to find) nesting opportunities for cavity-nesting birds!


One of two Green Parakeets flying by this morning!

BBWD flight

Here is a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck coming in for a landing to check out the Ebony Grove palm snags. Look at those gorgeous pink feet and colorful bill, among the rich brown, white, and black plumage!

BBWD cavity1

The pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks seemed content with the large cavity atop the palm snag. Here is the first whistling-duck, checking out the palm cavity.

BBWD cavity

Checking out the view from the potential nesting site for the summer months!


This handsome Yellow-throated Warbler was a delightful treat to see this morning. It was heard singing softly as it searched for insects throughout the leaves.

SWHA head on

Migrating Swainson’s Hawk, approaching head-on before gaining lift from the thermals over Ebony Grove


Adult Swainson’s Hawk. Look at that beautiful gray head, rufous-brown breast, and two-toned wings!

GFWO male

Male Golden-fronted Woodpecker keeps watch.


Female Golden-fronted Woodpecker, scanning her surroundings before entering her nesting cavity.


Inca Dove.


Olive Sparrow.

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

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  50
Plain Chachalaca  30
Glossy/White-faced Ibis  2     Distant flyby
Swainson’s Hawk  3
Killdeer  1     Flyover
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  1
Inca Dove  5
White-winged Dove  4
Mourning Dove  1
Chimney Swift  1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1
Black-chinned Hummingbird  1
Ruby-throated/Black-chinned Hummingbird  1
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  2
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  8
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  2
Green Parakeet  3
Great Kiskadee  10
Couch’s Kingbird  1
Blue-headed Vireo  1
Green Jay  2
Cave Swallow  3
Black-crested Titmouse  3
House Wren  2
Carolina Wren  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  4
Clay-colored Thrush  4
Curve-billed Thrasher  2
Long-billed Thrasher  3
Northern Mockingbird  7
European Starling  3
Orange-crowned Warbler  3
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1
Yellow-throated Warbler  1
Olive Sparrow  4
Northern Cardinal  1
Red-winged Blackbird  3
Great-tailed Grackle  5
House Sparrow  10

Good birding!
Erik Bruhnke

Bird Hike March 21, 2015

A little light rain won’t keep the fun from happening during our Songbird Strolls here at Quinta Mazatlan! The recent and upcoming rains are most-welcomed throughout Texas. The rains bring much-needed moisture to the many flowers, cacti, and trees, all of which support the existence of year-round birds and migratory birds too! We’re just starting to see the early pushes of songbirds trickling through the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Many of the cavity-nesting birds that live here have been busy searching for that perfect tree cavity throughout our snags, to call their home sweet home this upcoming summer.

BBWD perched up

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks love to perch up high and get a vantage point of their surroundings, especially when looking for a cavity to nest within!

PLCH without tail

This Plain Chachalaca contributed to the loud chachalaca chorus this morning. Note the lack of a tail on this bird. It may have had a lucky escape from a predator within the recent past!


Inca Dove, also without a tail. Like the Plain Chachalaca shown above, this bird may have had a quick escape from a predator.


The song and appearance of the Curve-billed Thrasher is a delight to all birders. Note the soft tan blotching on the frontside, smooth brownish-tan backside, and bright orange eye on this beautiful bird.


This is one of two Common Pauraques we saw this morning!

cottontail rabbit

The eastern cottontail busily eats the greens this morning.

OLSP banded

This Olive Sparrow was one of several Olive Sparrows seen scratching throughout the leaf debris in search of seeds. They are always fun to watch, but a challenge to find! Note the band on this bird’s left leg. Blurred in the foreground is salvia, a native species of flower that hummingbirds really like!

PLCH wet

Squeaky clean or soaking wet chachalaca… it is all how you look at it.


Selasphorus hummingbird. Rufous Hummingbirds are most expected here, however on rare occasions Broad-tailed Hummingbirds and the even-rarer (for the area) Allen’s Hummingbird can show up throughout the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

hummingbird sp

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Do you have your hummingbird feeders and water features out? Migrating songbirds of many species will be passing through soon!

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

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  50
Cattle Egret  1     Flyover, heading north
Inca Dove  10
White-tipped Dove  1
White-winged Dove  4
Mourning Dove  1
Common Pauraque  2
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1
Rufous/Allen’s Hummingbird  1
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  3
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  7
Red-crowned Parrot  7
Green Parakeet  2
Great Kiskadee  5
Green Jay  3
Bewick’s Wren  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Clay-colored Thrush  6
Curve-billed Thrasher  3
Long-billed Thrasher  3
Northern Mockingbird  2
European Starling  2
Orange-crowned Warbler  2
Olive Sparrow  3
Lincoln’s Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  2
Great-tailed Grackle  10
House Sparrow  8

Good birding to all! Bring on the rains and migrating birds,

Erik Bruhnke

Bird Hike October 14, 2014

Birds both young and old are making themselves known on the morning bird hikes at Quinta Mazatlan! One of the very special highlights this morning was witnessing an immature Gray Hawk fly along ebony grove. A few warblers were observed flitting and feeding throughout the tree tops, and the dapper Green Jays were observed multiple times.

The Gray Hawk is a beautiful raptor species found primarily throughout the neotropics of South America and Central America. Their range extend as far north as southeastern Arizona, Big Bend (western Texas), and the lower Rio Grande Valley. Gray Hawks are a buteo, which makes them a relative of Red-tailed Hawks and Swainson’s Hawks, among several other select raptors that have wide wings and proportionately short tails. Gray Hawks prefer habitat of thorn-scrub woodlands, savannahs, as well as along forest edges.

Adult Gray Hawks have a gray backside to their wings, and silvery-white undersides to their wings. Their tails have bold bands of black and white. The juveniles (including the one seen today) have gray and brown backsides to their wings, with white undersides to their wings. Their tail is very brown-toned, with fine paler bands throughout the length of the tail. The most noticeable field marks on juvenile Gray Hawks is the brown head with very bold white streaks throughout the face, and a white belly with brown vertical streaks along its belly. They are a very unique and eye-catching raptor species!


Gray Hawk. Photographed this past winter by John Brush.

The delightful charm of the Inca Doves was a special treat to see and hear as always. These small doves can often be seen roosting near each other in the cooler early morning hours, and feeding throughout openings within the shrubby landscape throughout the day. When nesting, they make a very basic “pad” of layered sticks, woven just dense-enough to support an adult and the eggs/young to be raised.


Juvenile Inca Dove. Note the rougher scalloped appearance, and paler reddish-brown eye. Adults are more clean-cut in appearance, and have dark-red eyes.

INDO nest

Inca Dove on its nest


Two Great Kiskadees. Look closely, and you can see the second Great Kiskadee in the far background.

The Gray Hawk we observed this morning is a very uncommon bird for Quinta Mazatlan. This species typically prefers larger expanses of their preferred habitat, found in areas like Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. This afternoon I checked out the historic eBird records of this species at Quinta Mazatlan, and this morning’s Gray Hawk observation is the 21st sighting of this species documented at Quinta Mazatlan since November 2006. You never know what you’re going to see on the Quinta Mazatlan bird hikes!

Below is the full eBird list from the bird hike this morning:
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  150     Massive early-morning flock at a distance, moving through
Plain Chachalaca  14
Turkey Vulture  4     Migrating
Sharp-shinned Hawk  1     Juvenile, migrating
Cooper’s Hawk  1     Juvenile
Gray Hawk  1     Juvenile
Swainson’s Hawk  1     Adult, migrating
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  4
White-winged Dove  18
Mourning Dove  2
Chimney Swift  1
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  2
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  3
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  1
Great Kiskadee  4
Couch’s Kingbird  2
Green Jay  2
Cliff Swallow  1
Carolina Wren  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  2
Clay-colored Thrush  7
Curve-billed Thrasher  2
Northern Mockingbird  5
European Starling  1
Black-and-white Warbler  1
Nashville Warbler  1
Yellow Warbler  1
Olive Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  3
Red-winged Blackbird  2
Great-tailed Grackle  3
Lesser Goldfinch  1
House Sparrow  15

Good birding,

Erik Bruhnke

Lawn Gone

ARTICLE 2013-08-12 Lawn Gone 01

The concept of lawns, as part of the American dream, originated in the England of the 1800’s.  With the great demand on water and its low supply, it’s time for us to create a new dream landscape for the twenty-first century. There is a great book titled “LAWN GONE” written by Pam Penick of Austin that provides beautiful alternatives for creating an attractive water-wise landscape that neighbors will admire!

Installing a lawn maybe inexpensive, but the weekly mowing, edging, running the sprinkler and applying fertilizers and pesticides become costly.  As much as 60% of residential water consumption goes to watering our yards.

ARTICLE 2013-08-12 Lawn Gone 03

Most people hardly use their lawns, especially the front lawn.  Some neighborhoods can look like a “lawn desert”, a mono-culture of turf.  So what do we replace the lawn with? Some tips for reducing the size of your front lawn follow:

1. Start with a Good Design—find some pictures similar to your home’s design and lawn size and start drawing a plan to shrink your lawn and water and maintenance bill—yet enrich your home with distinct regional beauty

2. Plant large masses of a few species

A. Low evergreen shrubs like yuccas and golden barrel cactus can be grown in clusters surrounded by gravel and mulch in lieu of water-needy lawns.

B. Low-growing flowering perennials live for several years rather than just one season.  They offer color and fragrance and attract butterflies and birds to your garden.  Turks cap, sages and lantanas are just a few attractive plants.

3. Add Places to Walk and Sit

Convert some of your lawn space for “people space” to sit outdoors and enjoy your garden.  This is such a welcoming statement for your home, neighborhood and business.

4. Design with Mulch

Not only is mulch used as an attractive finishing touch to your garden beds, you can use it as a “paving” material for casual paths and patios.

5. Create a Dry Stream

A dry stream created with river rock is an attractive garden feature and captures rain runoff at the same time.

ARTICLE 2013-08-12 Lawn Gone 02

As water continues to be a threatened natural resource, think about downsizing your lawn and save thousands of gallons of water and reduce your maintenance costs.  By reducing half your lawn with a patio and garden beds, you are creating a calm oasis featuring native plants.  Going lawn-less does not have to mean rocks and cactus and plants gone wild, your new garden décor can be structured and groomed.  Explore and have fun going lawn-less!

Written by Colleen Hook, Manager

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!