Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Lower Rio Grande Valley

...is amazing! One week just wasn't enough time to see everything, as new birds and butterflies were seen every day. I landed in Mcallen on the evening of October 23rd and left on October 30th. I ended the trip with 160 species of birds and 93 species of kaleidoscopically colored butterflies, with a few species of dragonflies and moths as well. I visited all the typical birding spots from South Padre to Salineno. Truth be told, I spent way more time looking at butterflies than birds; the butterfly diversity down there, especially in winter, is nothing short of spectacular. I failed in the bird photography category, as I had my macro lens on most of the time to shoot butterflies.

It was quite easy to locate the Rio Grande specialty birds like Green Jay, Kiskadee, Olive Sparrow, ect. Most of the birds can be found at various feeders.

Although I didn't see anything "rare", I was quite pleased with finding singing Audubon's Orioles at Salineno. Another spectacle to watch was this Ringed Kingfisher take a huge fish and beat it against the tree until it died, then managed to choke it down! I didn't think it would be possible.
At South Padre Island, herons and shorebirds were the name of the game. Surprisingly, it took a while to find a Reddish Egret, but I did. Then, at Laguna Atascosa they were everywhere. Also nice was this confiding Yellow-crowned Night Heron.
I wasn't quite sure how I was going to get my Common Pauraque, as I didn't want to go out alone driving back roads at night. Talking to some of the very knowledgeable local birders led me to Estero Llano Grande State Park. A Pauraque is known to roost in the same spot daily, so it was quite an easy find. I'm pretty sure I got better photos with my Iphone.
Estero also is a great spot for Green Kingfisher, and this is where I picked the only one up for the trip. I also got my life Cave Swallows there. 3 lifers in a matter of an hour sure was nice!

Mcallen holds a reliable staging spot for Green Parakeets in the vicinity of 10th street and Dove. They were not hard to find.

Here is a list of the 17 life birds I picked up on the trip:
Plain Chachalaca
White-tipped Dove
Green Kingfisher
Ringed Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Couch's Kingbird
Green Jay
Clay-colored Thrush
Long-billed Thrasher
Olive Sparrow
Altamira Oriole
Audubon's Oriole
Reddish Egret
Common Pauraque
Green Parakeet
Great Kiskadee
Cave Swallow

I spent a lot more time looking at butterflies than I did birds. My first full day, and my last full day were spent entirely at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas. The first day was the annual butterfly count, where I had a crash course in 65 species of butterflies at the gardens alone! Jeff Glassberg, along with all the other sharp butterfly observers really helped get me on my feet, especially with the skippers. I stopped by the gardens every day except when I went to South Padre, and every day held a different host of species. 93 species for the trip was quite exciting. Below are some pictures you may enjoy.
Nothing says "tropical" quite like the Guava Skipper. This one photographed at Estero Llano
My first unusual butterfly of the trip came quite quickly in the form of a Coyote Cloudywing. This one at the NBC. 
Gray Crackers were hard to come by, but this one flushed from a bait log, blowing its cover. Photographed at the NBC. 
Wouldn't want to leave out the showy Mexican Bluewing, quite common in the shaded woods in the LRGV. This one at the NBC.
Another rare species, the Mercurial Skipper, put on quite a show at the NBC for our count. These are strays from Mexico. 
Hairstreaks were hard to come by due to the drought, but this Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak displayed quite nicely.
One of the best butterflies of the trip, in my opinion, was this Pale-spotted Leafwing, a new species in NA even for Glassberg. This guy showed up for only ~5 minutes on count day and was never seen again.
I was happy to see this White Angled-Sulphur on count day, one I wasn't sure I would see. This was the only one seen the entire trip. 
When they are around, the Red-bordered Pixie is hard to miss! The NBC is a great place to see this species, active mostly in the morning and evening.
It would be crazy not to mention the longtails. 5 species were seen. The White-striped Longtail was a treat.
Brown Longtail is a little more drab, but still exciting. The similar Teleus Longtail is mentioned to be common in the Kaufman guide, but all the experienced butterfly people say it is actually extremely rare, with only a handful of legitimate records. I did not see any this trip, which isn't surprising.
Here is a complete list of the butterflies seen on the trip, in no particular order:

Red-bordered Pixie
Phaon Crescent
Pearl Crescent
Vesta Crescent
Gulf Fritillary
Mexican Fritillary
Varigated Fritillary
Ceraunus Blue
Cassius Blue
Western Pygmy Blue
Rekirt's Blue
Mallow Scrub Hairstreak
Gray Hairstreak
Marius Hairstreak
American Snout
Clouded Skipper
Fiery Skipper
Brown Longtail
Dorante's Longtail
Long-tailed Skipper
White-Striped Longtail
Tawny Emperor
Empress Lilea
Little Yellow
Mimosa Yellow
Southern Skipperling
Red Admiral
Lyside Sulphur
Southern Dogface
Pipevine Swallowtail
Bordered Patch
Tropical Checkered Skipper
Coyote Cloudywing
Carolina Satyr
Large Orange Sulphur
White Peacock
Southern Broken Dash
Mexican Bluewing
Laviana White Skipper
Common Buckeye
White Checkered Skipper
Common Sootywing
Fatal Metalmark
Turk's Cap Skipper
Julia Skipper
Hammock Skipper
Gray Cracker
Zebra Heliconia
Giant Swallowtail
Tropical Leafwing
American Lady
Painted Lady
Euphala Skipper
Murcurial Skipper
Cloudless Sulphur
Great Southern White
Pale-Spotted Leafwing
Common Mellana
White-Angled Sulphur
Hermit Skipper
Gold Spotted Aguna
Statira Sulphur
Celias Roadside Skipper
Sickle-winged Skipper
Red-bordered Metalmark
Pale-rayed Skipper
Funereal Duskywing
Dainty Sulphur
Many-banded Daggerwing
Purple-washed Skipper
Walker's Metalmark
Dusky-blue Groundstreak
Boisduval's Yellow
Mimosa Skipper
Rounded Metalmark
Clytie Ministreak
Zilpa Longtail
Fawn-spotted Skipper
Mazan's Scallopwing
Ocola Skipper
Mournful Duskywing
Guava Skipper
Silver-banded Hairstreak
Violet-banded Skipper
Band-celled Sister
White-patched Skipper
Sleepy Orange
Tailed Orange

I have many more pictures of the butterflies, but just not enough time to edit them all. I leave for Alaska on Friday. I will be doing a 6 week winter seabird observing position aboard the USCGC Healy Icebreaker. The route takes us from Seward, through Unimak Pass, through the Bearing Sea, into the Chukchi Sea, back through the Bearing Sea, with disembarkment in Dutch Harbor. It is uncertain what I will see out there, given the time of year and the minimal daylight hours, but it is sure to be exciting!

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