Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mid-June 2011 Starr County, Texas

I spent four days in the Upper Rio Grande Valley, birding and vacationing in a county I needed to know better. June is a prime month for this as the motels are dirt cheap and mostly empty. The drought here is horrific but farmers somehow have managed to get in a crop of milo and black oil seed despite there being no rain since last October! The weather is perfect especially in the mornings. The birds are very active as is other wildlife up until around 11:30A. I do not think the temperatures have got much above 102F.  I typically am in the field from the first hint of dawn until noon or 1:00P, then again in the late evening.

There were numerous surprises for me including a pair of nesting American Kestrels. Rare thing here. As well as two nests of Swainson's Hawks.

I really enjoyed the Horned Larks out in the milo fields and elsewhere. Spent a fair amount of time with them. They behave so different than the birds I am most used to directly on the coast and in the large ag. fields slightly inland there. These birds were loud and musical, easier to see, appeared overall darker and most importantly they perched often on the seed heads of milo!  Even singing from them!   Sometimes I could see several at a time doing this. This behavior is something I never see in the same type of fields near the coast. Birds there just hit the dirt and run, they are paler as well.

Just check out how healthy this milo is given it received no rain. It is about ready to be harvested. Indeed the black oil seed was being combined while I was there. It too did very well.
 The next shot is just of a view of the majority of the habitat I was in under a nice soft dawn light

  One of the big surprises for me was finding standing water in an old gravel pit. It was the only water I found except that in water troughs and small ponds being supplied by a well. This gravel pit pond was no more than about 50 feet across but it had one of the best birds of the trip. This female Ringed Kingfisher (above), was away from the Rio Grande River (~30+ miles)....It seemed very out of place. I would have expected a Green Kingfisher in this situ...There she was at this tiny speck of water in the middle of the desert. Likely the only place she could find that had fish, and it had a few small fish as I saw her catch one.

When full of water this quarry makes quite a lake and at it's deepest point it is ~31 feet deep per the rancher. When the kingfisher and I were there it may have had only 2 feet remaining.

Blue Grosbeaks were abundant and could be heard at nearly every stop. I had far too many species to list but Common Ground-Doves were like grasshoppers. They were everywhere and I may have seen upwards of 500+, Likewise Ash-throated and Brown-crested Flycatchers seemed to be everywhere. Hundreds of N. Bobwhites were seen or heard as well a few Scaled Quail but none of them had any chicks and it was reported to me that they just did not breed or are waiting for rain to do so.
Another bird that I was surprised to see so many of were Groove-billed Anis.
 They were scattered everywhere and if they were not seen, the mockingbirds make sure one does  not forget they were present.

There were a couple of species that I am not sure I have ever seen in the county, but perhaps have.  One of those was the Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet ...A tiny thing I heard it sing for a long time before I could spot it in a mesquite across a fence. It was also the first one that I have seen in a couple of years.

In the early cool hours, a few Tarantulas are seen out roaming about. This really big guy was on a mission and did not pause for better photos

The remaining photos are of good old S. Texas ranch land under the stress of drought. Such water spots as pictured are critical in droughts like this one.

Lastly yesterday afternoon a huge fire started burning north of my motel in Rio Grande City. It continued into the night turning the smoke orange and burning away for hours. It was under control by the time I got up early this morning.

Additional photos below