Birding and Birds at Quinta Mazatlan: A Year-End Review

As we begin the new year (and may 2016 be a safe and productive one for all of you!), I like to go back and look at what happened in the birding world here at Quinta Mazatlan. It’s a good opportunity to also look back even further than 2015 as well.

I decided to look at the eBird records from the Quinta Mazatlan Hotspot (linked). I downloaded the eBird bar chart data for each year Quinta Mazatlan has been open (2006-2015) and compared the number of species reported and number of checklists submitted. The idea being to explore a little bit more of how the birding at Quinta Mazatlan has changed over the years, without delving into individual species.

Species & Checklists figure 1

This graph shows the number of species reported each year from 2006-2015 (blue line), along with the corresponding number of checklists submitted (red line). The number of checklists dramatically increased between 2011 and 2012, and maintained at the new high level through 2015.

While it doesn’t look like it, the number of species increases noticeably between 2006-2011 and 2012-2015. When running a regression between the number of complete checklists per year and the reported species total you can see this trend much easier.

checklist species regression

Regression of number of species with number of checklists. There was a significant (p < 0.005) positive relationship between the two, and a pretty nice fit of line (R² = 0.8707, y = 0.2209x + 115.05). For example, if we submitted 200 checklists in a year, based off the equation we would expect to see roughly 160 species.

The most frequently birded time of year is the winter, and the least frequently birded is the summer (based off the number of checklists submitted). November and February in particular are well birded. I would venture that in November it is due to the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival but I’m unsure of why February has so many checklists. The dip in amount of checklists in the summer is typical across the Valley; fewer visiting birders that time of year!

checklists by month figure 2

Checklists by month, sums from eBird bar chart data.

I wanted to figure out how many bird species a birder would typically see on a visit to Quinta Mazatlan. To do this, I chose a somewhat arbitrary limit of birds having a frequency of at least 25% (meaning that they are reported on 1/4 checklists at Quinta Mazatlan). 29 birds met this limitation, and are seen in the table below.

25 percent bird species

Species recorded on over 25% of checklists submitted for Quinta Mazatlan. These are the core species a visitor would expect to see in the park, along with many others that are more uncommon and/or seasonal.

I also thought it would be fun to select a “best bird of the year” for 2015, based primarily on how rare the species is both in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and specifically at Quinta Mazatlan. So, without further ado, the best bird of the year was…..

Yellow-green Vireo Erik photo

… Yellow-green Vireo! This bird was found by Erik Bruhnke, one of Quinta Mazatlan’s great bird guides. It was seen singing in July. This species is a code 3 American Birding Association bird (scale of 1-5, with 5 rarest), which is defined as a “species that occur in very low numbers, but annually, in the ABA Checklist Area. This includes visitors and rare breeding residents.” The ABA area is essentially the continental US and Canada.

There were only 5 records of Yellow-green Vireo in the Valley in 2015, and it had never been recorded at Quinta Mazatlan before. Great find Erik!

Here’s to 2016 – may it have lots of birds in store!


Learning the birds of Quinta Mazatlan, eBird style

One of my favorite websites, and also one of my most frequently used iPhone apps, is eBird. This website, created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, was launched in 2002 and has made incredible strides since. It is both a valuable tool for birders and scientists (for more info go to:

But aside from being of practical use for birders, its also a great way to explore and learn about where birds live and migrate. One of the things scientists have done with all the bird observations entered into eBird is to create Occurrence Maps ( These maps, created by combining environmental data and bird observations (read more at the link above), show the seasonal ranges and movements of over 50 birds in the United States. The result is mesmerizing.


The occurrence map seen above is that of the Wood Thrush, an uncommon but regular migrant in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. We got a brief glimpse of one today on our songbird stroll, but you can see from the map that this species is for the most part gone from the United States by November (and you can confirm this by exploring eBird data in this way).  I encourage you to visit the link for the occurrence maps above – it’s definitely a fun way to look at bird migration.

QM Hotspot

Quinta Mazatlan is in the top 10 eBird hotspots in Hidalgo county, with over 250 species reported from the park. On the hotspot page you can look at when birds were last seen, what was seen on recent visits, and more.

I also encourage you to explore the bird sightings at Quinta Mazatlan using eBird. Every bird walk that is led by our staff is uploaded into eBird, and on a side note, I’m proud to say that Erik Bruhnke and I have submitted over 350 checklists for the par.

Here's an American Robin that showed up on today's Songbird Stroll. It's only the 16th time since 2007 that they've been reported from the park.

Here’s an American Robin that showed up on today’s Songbird Stroll. It’s only the 16th time since 2007 that they’ve been reported from the park, but they have been showing up more frequently in the Valley the past few weeks.

If you’re starting to get into birding more, using eBird is a great way to learn more about where to find (and in what season) birds in the Valley. You can go to the eBird “Getting Started” page to learn some of the basics, and I hope to see more and more checklists submitted from Quinta Mazatlan and across the Valley.

Have a great weekend!

John Brush

Native Plant Festival

Tallamy Books

Check out our Native Plant Festival Schedule!

October 24th 9:00 am to 2:00 pm

9:00 am

  • Themed Garden Tours Outdoors (bird, butterflies, cactus & more)

10:00 am

  • Dr. Tallamy presents “Stitching the World Together for Birds”

11:30 am

  • Allen Williams “Creating Living Landscapes at Home, School, & Business”
  • Native Plant Project


  • Native Plant Sale with Mike Heep, Betty Perez, and Suzie & James Lovegren
  • Book Signing with Dr. Tallamy of Bringing Nature Home
  • Art Gallery Exhibit & Sale by Jessica Monroe, Arte Nativo
  • Nature Gift Items, Art, Jewelry, Healthy Snacks, & more

Planta Nativa Celebration

Douglas Tallamy

Planta Nativa Celebration featuring Nationally Renowned Author Dr. Douglas Tallamy at Quinta Mazatlan.

The celebration of our natural heritage will take place at Planta Nativa on Friday evening, October 23rd from 6:30 to 9:30 at Quinta Mazatlan. Along with tacos, tapas, beer, wine, and art guest will thoroughly enjoy a presentation by Dr. Douglas Tallamy on the giant LED movie screen outdoors titled “Creating Living Landscapes”.

The evening begins with the McAllen Chamber Border Buttermilk Reception while viewing the UTRGV Science Poster Presentation by Agroecology Students in the Grand Hall. In the Art Gallery artist Jessica Monroe opens her newest exhibit titled Arte Nativo for view and purchase.

At 8:00 pm, Douglas Tallamy presents “Creating Living Landscapes” outdoors. As development and subsequent habitat destruction accelerate, there are increasing pressure on wildlife populations. But there is an important and simple step toward reversing this alarming trend: Everyone with access to a patch of earth can make a significant contribution toward sustaining biodiversity.

There is an unbreakable link between native plant species and native wildlife- native insects cannot or will not, eat alien plants. When native plants disappear, the insects disappear, impoverishing the food source for birds and other animals. In many parts of the world, habitat destruction has been so extensive that local wildlife is in crisis and may be headed toward extinction.

Participate in a special evening of “Bringing Nature Home” as it has sparked a national conversation about the link between healthy local ecosystems and human well-being. Douglas will also be available for a book signing reception. The Planta Nativa tickets are $15.00 and can be purchased in advance at Quinta Mazatlan. For more information please call 956-681-3370 or visit

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 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