Friday, May 8, 2009

South Texas Specialty Birds

In three days of birding, botanizing, dragonflying, butterflying and otherwise exploring the southernmost reaches of Texas, I happened along many of the specialty birds that get birders’ blood boiling. I already blogged a few of them here, here, here, and here.

Below are a handful of images of some of the rest, with the photos falling variously into the categories of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Brown-crested Flycatcher, Myiarchus tyrannulus. This big relative of the Great Crested Flycatcher is common in South Texas, as well as southern Arizona. They frequently give a soft whistled whit note, reminiscent of a Swainson’s Thrush call note. Brown-cresteds can capture large prey items, such as lizards, and are alleged to occasionally take hummingbirds.

Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, Dendrocygna bicolor. These goose-like duck allies are quite showy, bedecked in soft fawn-colored tones highlighted by intricate white and gray markings. They dive well, too. They are limited to areas of the southernmost U.S. but also occur in Asia and Africa as well as elsewhere in the Americas.

Green Jay, Cyanocorax yncas. This tropical jay is a true South Texas specialty, and one of the most coveted birds for the first-time birder visiting this region. As is the case with some other jays, they can become habituated to people and thus quite tame. In such situations they are easy to see; when in thick thorn forest Green Jays are difficult to spot in spite of the outlandish color scheme.

A bit over the top, this one. It’s as if a Picasso gone mad designed the Green Jay.

Long-billed Thrasher, Toxostoma longirostre. Another South Texas exclusive, it resembles the familiar eastern Brown Thrasher, but is darker brown above. They sing a similar song and also frequently deliver a very Brown Thrasher-like harsh CHAK call note.

Olive Sparrow, Arremonops rufivirgatus. I was lucky to get this shot. Olive Sparrows are confined to South Texas north of the border, but are common in the right areas. But, they are MUCH easier to hear than see. The song is suggestive of a Field Sparrow; a series of clear chips that accelerate as the song goes on.

Least Grebes, Tachybaptus dominicus. Quite a flotilla – seven of ‘em! These unusually extroverted individuals were on the pond at the World Birding Center at Edinburg, Texas, one of the best places to see this species. These diminutive grebes are often quite secretive and prone to skulking in densely vegetated wetlands where they are much harder to see.

Parked next to one of our smallest ducks, a Blue-winged Teal, one can get a sense of the dinkiness of our smallest grebe.

Couch’s Kingbird, Tyrannus couchii. This species is virtually inseparable visually from the Tropical Kingbird, but differs markedly in its songs and calls. I digiscoped this one at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, where they are common.

White-tipped Dove, Leptotila verreauxi. This tropical dove can be quite the skulker, prone to hiding in dense growth. They are often far more easily detected by their odd calls: an eerie whoo-whoooo.

A White-tipped Dove shares space with another southerner, a Mexican Ground Squirrel, which north of the border is found almost entirely in Texas.

Altamira Oriole, Icterus gularis. A real specialty of South Texas, this stunning oriole wasn’t found north of the border until 1939. Big, beautiful, and electric orange, they can still be surprisingly difficult to spot in the thickets. A few poor whistles by me enticed him to have a peek, and allow the photo.

Clay-colored Thrush, Turdus grayi. Formerly known as the Clay-colored Robin, I caught this one at dusk, singing its beautiful robin-like song. Listen to the video carefully and you'll hear it. This is an abundant and widespread thrush in Central America, and is the national bird of Costa Rica. This one was video'd at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, a great place to find them.


Jared Mizanin said...

JIM! Awesome blog! Those photos are amazing...each one!

I didn't know Least Grebes were that social. As well, awesome shot w/ the BW teal for size reference.

Great shots of the Green Jay and LB Thrasher. And to even get one of the Olive Sparrow, let alone in focus, is an accomplishment itself!

That Mexican Ground Squirrel is beautiful. I've seen numerous posts/blogs on the birds of southern Texas, but nobody ever takes notice of the non-feathered fauna. Thanks for sharing.

And that CC Robin...he sounds like a Rose-breasted Grosbeak to me. Similar to an American Robin but sweeter!

Kathi said...

Green Jays - I could die every time I see a photo of one!

Even tho I am a fan of the brown birds, the Green Jay wins my Best Bird of the Post Award today.


Heidi Hellstern said...

I love these pics! Thank you! I've seen a Clay-coloured robin in CR as well. :)

Great Blue Heron, with ornamental plumes

  A Great Blue Heron, a very common wading bird and a species all of us are undoubtedly familiar with. It's never productive to get jade...