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!


Is there an Ichhthyologist in the House?

Thursday 6-7 pm at Quinta Mazatlan.

Dr. Robert J. Edwards

Once regulated to select channels, fishing has gained mainstream popularity with shows such as Wicked Tuna, River Monsters, and Hillbilly Handfishin. Here in the beautiful Rio Grande Valley, fishing takes the form of the thrilling struggles of deep sea fishing, the practice of good sportsmanship in fishing tournaments and the peaceful passing of time of recreational fishing.  With different fishing activities and environments, one wonders about the sustainability of this activity.  What happens when a fish’s environment has been altered?  Do they find a way to adapt and survive or do they lose the battle to the changes that mankind has made?  Join us on Thursday, December 5th, 6:00 pm at Quinta Mazatlan as we will have an Ichthyologist in the house!

Dr. Edwards, an Ichthyologist, will take us on a journey into the fascinating lives of fishes.   Dr. Edwards ‘presentation will  give the audience an inside look into the amazing adaptations fish go through.  In addition, participants will explore the world of our local fish fauna through his own scientific investigations .  Edwards’s studies have focused on fish community ecology and the changes that have occurred over the past century and a half in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Rio Grande Basin photo

Dr. Robert J. Edwards is a Professor of Biology and Director of the Environmental Science program at the University of Texas-Pan American.  Dr. Edwards received his bachelor’s degree from Oregon State University.  He returned to Texas to receive his master’s and doctorate degrees in Zoology, from the University of Texas at Austin.  He currently teaches courses in various areas of biology, including his own field of ichthyology, at UTPA.  In addition, Dr. Edwards has extensively researched fish and other aquatic organisms of Texas, the southwestern U.S., and northern Mexico.  He is a member of four endangered species recovery teams and has been the leader of two of these.  His current research has dealt with reintroducing the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow back into its historic habitats in the Big Bend region of Texas.  Dr. Edwards has received numerous awards for his research including being a three-time recipient of the prestigious international George Miksch Sutton Award in Conservation Research.

To kick off this fantastic presentation here are a couple of fun fish facts:

  • Catfish are literally covered from head to tail in taste buds; even their whiskers have taste buds which helps them locate food in murky water.
  • Most fish can see in color and use colors to camouflage themselves or defend themselves and their territory.
  • Most fish cannot swim backwards.
  • Fish were well established long before dinosaurs roamed the earth.

The Nature Speaker Series takes place on Thursday evenings through April 2014 and is proudly sponsored by Thurmond Eye Associates.  The program fee is $3 per person and no advance reservation is required. Quinta Mazatlan is located at 600 Sunset in McAllen, one block south of La Plaza Mall on 10th Street. For more information contact Quinta Mazatlan at (956) 681-3370 or visit

A New Meaning to Day of the Dead

By Mary Thorne

Monarchs in Mexico

The Day of The Dead is a Mexican tradition that coincides with the annual migration of monarch butterflies to their winter residence in Mexico. Traditionally, the Monarchs were believed to be the souls of the dead returning to earth.

This migration of Monarch butterflies can also teach us about caring for our environment.   School kids are taught at an early age about habitat. Every living thing needs food and water for nourishment, shelter from weather and predators, and space. In order for a species to continue, they must mate and must have an environment where their offspring can mature.

Nature has an amazing capacity to adapt. All butterflies go through four stages of metamorphosis – egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly. Each species of butterfly has different needs, or different habitats depending on where they live. Monarch butterflies are unique. During the summer they drink nectar from flowers and lay their eggs on milkweed. The eggs hatch into caterpillars. The caterpillars grow quickly and change into chrysalises. Soon afterwards a butterfly emerges and starts the cycle over again.


The Monarch butterflies that emerge in the fall in North America cannot survive the freezing temperatures of winter. Instead, they fly thousands of miles to a completely different habitat in the mountains of Mexico.  Monarchs heading south for the winter get energy by drinking nectar from flowers during the day. At night they seek shelter by roosting in trees. Millions of Monarchs can be seen migrating through Texas in late October.  They look for backyard habitats like Quinta Mazatlan and neighboring homes.

In the spring those same Monarchs that flew all the way to Mexico begin the return trip north.  Somehow they manage to find milkweed and lay their eggs before they die. Within a few weeks the new batch of butterflies will continue migrating north for the summer. The cycle will repeat itself until fall when once again the migration south begins.

I am a little bit like the Monarch; I don’t like winter so I migrate south too. I came to The Rio Grande Valley because of butterflies.  My appreciation for butterflies developed into a new understanding of native plants.  I learned that butterflies need native plants to live.  It is that simple.  So now, I plant mostly native plants in my garden.

Last year the number of Monarchs wintering in Mexico hit an all time low.  Much of the decline is caused by habitat loss.  According to Monarch Watch, a non-profit organization that focuses on monarch butterflies, an estimated 147 million acres of monarch habitat has been lost since 1992.

My return to the valley coincides with the Monarch Migration. Last year I eagerly returned to my garden anticipating the sight of hundreds of butterflies in all shapes and sizes gracefully floating around the plants I had planted. But even my own little butterfly “sanctuary” suffered from habitat loss.  The “weeds” I had carefully nurtured had been pulled out. There were no butterflies in my garden when I returned, just mulch. No habitat. No butterflies.

It seems so simple. Give them water, food, shelter, and a place to raise their young and they will continue as they have for thousands of years.  Honor what we love on this day and care for our little remaining habitat so traditions like the Monarch Migration continue in our culture.

I Spy a Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Written by Ouina Rutledge

Bird Walk 2013-05-14 Buff-bellied Hummingbird John Brush

As I sit here by my breakfast nook window sipping tea I spy a Buff-bellied Hummingbird swooping in to sip nectar from a Red Sage flower. Hummingbirds love to flit, hover, and zoom around in my garden as I have planted a number of hummingbird attractant plants. I receive many questions from Valley residents wanting to know how they too can attract these colorful birds to their back yards.

Bringing these visitors up close and personal does require a little bit of knowledge of native plants and some gardening space, whether containers, small beds or large. Knowing what kinds of plants will do well in our Valley environment and what kinds of hummingbirds those plants will attract will improve your chances of seeing these beautiful, diminutive birds!

Turk's Cap

Two plants that are the very best natives that will attract hummingbirds and are readily available at local nurseries are the Tropical or Red Sage (Salvia coccinea) and Dwarf Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus drummondii). Both these plants are attractive additions to any garden. They need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight to flower, are very drought tolerant, and are low-maintenance. Water to establish and then water only infrequently but deeply to maintain flowering. Both have deep red flowers and will flower nearly continuously all year. Prune back occasionally to maintain shape. But don’t prune all the plants at once as you want some plants to always be in flower so that you can attract the hummers!

Allow both plant species to seed and you will be pleasantly surprised to find other birds coming to your garden as I have seen Chachalacas, Northern Cardinals, Kiskadees, and Painted Buntings among the number of birds that fly in and devour the seeds. These birds are hungry – especially the migratory birds flying through on their way south.

Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen promotes and encourages use of native plants in the urban landscape. If you want to learn more about landscaping with natives – the how-to’s – join us every Wednesday 8:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m at Quinta Mazatlan for volunteer mornings.  By planting Rio Grande Valley native plants, you not only enjoy seeing nature out your window up close and personal, you are conserving native plants and the birds that need these plants to survive. Hummingbirds are vulnerable to habitat loss and pesticides. Their chances of survival increase every time one zips over to a tasty meal provided by your small container garden or back yard habitat!