Monday, August 4, 2014

More From The Valley: Aquatic Texans

No megas to report on today, although I did miss being on a Hawaiian Petrel boat on Saturday. It hurts, I won't lie. The only Pterodroma I've seen in California was a Murphy's Petrel, and it was so bloody far by the time I got glass on it that I couldn't make out any field marks to speak of (thus I do not count it, for I am an honorable birder). But before BB&B goes into full fall seabird mode, here is some more terrestrial spring coverage from Texas instead. After all, Texas is notorious for it's awful pelagic trips...not that anyone can blame the birders who organize and lead those trips, but let's face it; the Gulf is a desolate place compared to waters off California or North Carolina.

Right. Sorry Texans. Despite being impressively unadorned, semi-aquatic Northern Waterthrushes are quite variable in appearance. This is a "yellower" bird with legs on the pink end of the spectrum. South Padre Island, TX.

And here is a "white" individual, with duller legs. This isn't an uncommon variation, despite what some field guides and a lot of birders will tell you. It even appears to have some color on the flanks, LOWA style. Note how heavy the streaking on the breast is compared to LOWA. South Padre Island, TX.

It took me a long time to see a White-rumped Sanpiper...I had seen a grand total of 3 before this year. Thankfully they are a plentiful spring migrant in south Texas, and I even got side-by-side comparisons with Baird's Sandpiper. Pretty sick. Near Boca Chica Beach, TX.

This bird isn't quite as far into it's alternate plumage. Seeing a fish-eating Calidrid is not an everyday occurrence.

Long wings. White rump. Classic.

Hey, it's a Wilson's Plover. Did you know there is a Collared Plover in south Texas right now? It's the second U.S. record. Dan Jones found it, who you may know from the Global Birder Ranking System's Lower Rio Grande Valley Honor Roll. I called up the GBRS statisticians to do some math for me, and it turns out that on average 0.91 Collared Plovers actually occur in Texas every year. Why are they not found? Two reasons...the large amount of shorebird habitat available, and the impressive number of low-ranking birders in the area (mostly visiting birders) who misidentify COPL for other species. A lethal combination, if ever there was one. Near Boca Chica Beach, TX.

Fulvous Whistling-Ducks...birds I have not seen since the 90's. We had quite the reunion. Bummer that these birds are essentially gone from California now. Lake Harlingen, TX.

Fulvous are dwarfed by their more abundant black-bellied counterpart. On one of my last days on my Texas work site, there were hundreds of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks flying around (Willacy County). It was a vexing experience, to be sure. Other spots I turned up FUWD were at Estero Llano Grande and South Padre Island.

Least Bittern. I've had better looks at these skulky bastards, but never with sherbert lores! What a delicious flavor of facemelt. Estero Llano Grande WBC, TX.

The bittern unleashes a deafening bellow in the direction of some prey. Within seconds, a 7-foot alligator went belly up in the pond. Adult alligators are the preferred prey for Least is known.

Lesser Yellowlegs are quite stylish a few months of the year. South Padre Island, TX.

Graduating the yellowlegs course is an important first step for beginning birders. Overcome this hurtle (Greater vs. Lesser vs. Solitary Sandpiper), and you will find yourself skyrocketing up the GBRS ladder...until you have to take the dowitcher test, that is.

Not only is the south blessed with winning wading bird diversity, the birds themselves are far more tolerant of humans. Here is a fearless Green Heron. South Padre Island, TX.

Maybe the next sushi craze will be consuming fish in this manner (swallowed whole, head first, in the ancient tradition of the Ardeidae).

I'm still looking for a Reddish Egret crush. I should have just crawled out there on my belly like the nerds below, but I was too busy birding and not wanting to wallow in mud. South Padre Island, TX.

Stately, but frantic when it comes to feeding. I wonder what a Reddish Egret would do if prescribed Ritalin. My hypothesis? Starve to death.

The challenges of dowitcher identification seem never-ending. This Short-billed Dowitcher, which actually has a short bill, is probably a male. A few things to note on this bird are the spotting on the sides, steep forehead and gentle (yet noticeable) decurve of the mandible. South Padre Island, TX.

Another Short-billed. Take a look at this comprehensive article on dowitcher ID, you might learn a thing or two.

Like Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Least Grebe is one of the birds that brings in birders from all corners of the country. They're not much to look at compared to some of the valley specialties, but if that doesn't put you off you can get a hell of a look at Sabal Palm Sanctuary (where this bird was photographed).

Hard to get better looks than this.

I failed to photograph Speckled Racer on this day, so this Rio Grande Leopard Frog (I think) will have to do. Sabal Palm Sanctuary, TX.

Look at these nerds crawling around in the mud. I feel bad for the girl they dragged along, through the mud, who has to carry their shit. Crazy photogs.


  1. Wondiferous post Steve, your crush rate of solid birds is dynamic, enviable, and high.

    The FUWDs cut me particularly deep, both with the visceral shock of their beauty, especially the legs, and also because I didn't see any, not one, while in Texas. Them and friggin' Red-billed Pigeon.

    Carry on in this manner forever, please.

    1. I missed pigeon too...which is particularly annoying, considering how easy they are to see to the south. Pain, pain pain...

  2. Sherbert-lored Bittern would be a far better name than Least. Obviously. I like that in that last picture the folks in the water are fully dressed.

  3. Love the nerd documentation. I was going to make a joke about them being virgins, but there's a lady with them. I'm confused.

  4. That is an AMAZING photograph of that least grebe. Holy. Crap.

    Based on my experience w/The Fulvous, my VERY favorite aspect of them is their calls. They used to litter my father-in-law's golf course (Houston), and since I accompany him & my husband while they golf & I bird, that was the BEST part of the course, every time.

    Just so you can be proud, yours is one of the VERY few blogs I read where I actually intentionally read other people's comments. I like your peeps and learn a lot from them (and of course am frequently amused).

    1. Thanks BB. Yes, comments are hard to stomach, but mine are pretty appetizing though.

  5. I'm still skeptical on the usefulness of the so called "loral angle" fieldmark that dowitcher article talks about. I've tried it, and even on two birds in the same position, or on a single bird in multipe photos, there seems to be too much variation for it to be useful at all.

    1. I thought their photographic evidence of the arched supercilium (or lack thereof) was pushing it a bit.