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 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 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


Nature At Your Doorstep

Written by Manager Colleen Curran HookBird Walk 2013-08-24 Buff-bellied Hummer John Brush

With the fast pace lives we lead, there is something very calming about having nature at your doorstep.  Real live nature reminds us of the beauty in life, the seasons, the rise and fall of the sun, as well as the pull of the moon.  Most of us won’t have vast reaches of wilderness to get lost in close to home, but we can create patches and pockets of wildness to enjoy in our own backyards.

In the months of September and October, the valley will enjoy the arrival of hummingbirds.  The Ruby-throated Hummingbird has started their migration—returning to their wintering grounds in Central America and Mexico.  Of the 323 different hummingbirds seen in the Americas, 21 species have been seen in North America.  It is interesting that hummingbirds are found only in the Western Hemisphere!  In the Valley you might see four different hummingbirds:  Buff-bellied (permanent resident), Ruby-throated and Rufous (migrant in September/October) and the Black-chinned Hummingbird (uncommon).


The following 5 TIPS will help you attract hummingbirds to your backyard:

Design in Layers:  Build a top, middle and lower canopy of plants in your garden.  The habitat provides food, place to hide from predators, nesting and resting sites in your yard.

Plant Flowers with Nectar:  While hummingbirds are attracted to red tubular plants, they are opportunistic feeders and are mainly looking for nectar.  Nectar is rich in sugar and attracts pollinators like bees and hummingbirds.  Our top plants at Quinta Mazatlan include the Turk’s Cap, Scarlet Sage, Coral Bean Tree and Wild Olive Tree.

Hang Feeders:  Feeders should be used as “frosting on the cake” with the cake being the habitat!  Most flowering plants provide 20% sugar—so that is your ratio for your nectar creation.  Mix 4 parts water to 1 part sugar.  There is no need for red dye as it might hurt the birds—and the red on your “hanging feeder” will attract attention.  The feeders should be cleaned twice a week.

Insects are Good-Avoid Insecticides:  The birds feed their young a diet of small insects. The adults get their protein from mosquitoes, spiders, gnats and others.  Some even hang overripe melons and bananas near a feeder to attract extra insects.  Obviously using a product that kills insects will also harm the birds. Let the hummingbirds control the insects!

Don’t Forget the Water:  A constant source of water will complete your hummingbird haven.  If you have a bird bath, add a couple of rocks to give the tiny birds a shallow place to bathe.  You can also add a drip fountain attachment or a simple sprinkler for them to fly through.

These Jewels in Flight known in Spanish as Joyas Voladores are beautiful to view and they help control our mosquitoes as they feed on insects!  If you are interested in designing a wilderness in your yard consider taking the Backyard Habitat Steward Program at Quinta Mazatlan.

Fall Arrives… Fall Breeze… Fall Colors… Fall Leaves

Written by Education Supervisor Carol Goolsby

Fall Arrives Butterfly Collage

For those of you from up north that miss the colors of Fall….let me turn your attention to what is unique about living down here in the Lower Rio Grande Valley—the change of COLOR in the Fall doesn’t come from our LEAVES…it flies in through the skies, on a breeze!

The first color you will notice is bright pink…on the throat on our Fall migrant hummingbird.  I saw my first one zipping around a Turk’s Cap flower just yesterday…reminding me of royalty.  (How can an animal with the weight of a penny not BAKE flying over 100-degree Texas!)   Catch a glimpse of its black beak, and you’ll know you’re not looking at the common resident Buff-bellied hummingbird that has a red beak.  The Ruby-throated hummingbird is a Fall Valley treasure… worth any northern gold leaf!

Next the skies will turn orange! Monarchs will arrive sometime in late September or October as they move en masse toward the forests of Michoacán, Mexico.  Don’t take them for granted though!  They have been suffering in recent years from chemical sprays and clearing of land.  The world’s most famous butterfly faces challenges greater than ever in its history.  During this year’s Fall migration, it is worth stepping outside to any nature park’s butterfly garden, and seeing the Fall sky “turn orange” while you can.

Of course don’t confuse a Monarch with two of its more commonly seen, equally beautiful relatives:  the Queen and Soldier.  Monarchs will be larger, lighter orange, and display thicker black veins.  And who knows!  Perhaps while admiring “butterfly royalty”, you might even spot a Zebra!   This striped black and pale yellow “heliconian” is nearly the size of your fist!  The hypnotic stripes of the zebra in flight might then lure you into an area that some of our most spectacularly colored butterflies favor—the edge of the woodland.  It is here you can see the country’s largest GREEN butterfly, the Malachite, preferring the shelter and nectar of our hackberry trees….or the amazingly beautiful Mexican Bluewing, with its   metallic blue and black stripes.  It takes jaunts into the open sun to nectar on a scarlet sage or crucita before racing back to the forest to camouflage its outer gray wings on the bark of a hackberry tree. There are orange, black, white, yellow, red-tipped, purple-hued, aqua  blue, green, silvery, metallic, and even CLEAR-winged butterflies!  And FALL is the best season to see them all!

Nowhere else in the country can a person see over half of its butterfly species, and the greatest diversity of resident and migrant birds…in such a small region.  Don’t let the most beautiful time of our year pass you by.

Just once a year Fall arrives…on a breeze…with OUR
Fall colors.  Get outside! …before Fall “leaves”.