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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Texas Birdie Round-up

View of Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Hidalgo Co., Texas
Ah, Spring! When thoughts of straying north of the 'only-really-there-because-humans-insist-it-is' International Border, enters the noggins of our tiny feathered friends. It was for the pleasure of seeing flying treasures, that with zero planning, I purchased tickets to sally down to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

I was barely off the jet when I headed to the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. There I swore, cursed and grumbled nastily as I hiked into the refuge with hopes of seeing one or two juvenile Northern Jacanas. We hates the hiking... soon I was deep in the refuge, staring at reeds and sedges in a hopeful manner. Then a nice pair of Canadians, one lugging a spotting scope, arrived. On their faces, a look of complete boredom. We chatted, when one of the gentlemen, raised his arm and pointed and calmly stated: "There's one."

Sure enough, far off in shallow reeds I could see a long legged rail-ish sort of  bird darting about.

Youngster Northern Jacana
LIFER! The juvie Northern Jacana with it's over-sized toes, pecked among the shallow water and put on a show. I was kindly invited to get a better look at the bird through the spotting scope. I might have tried for an iPhone shot through the scope but the eyepiece of the scope was so high I could barely see through it in the first place. Hurrah! My trip was off to a successful start, and thanks again dear Canooks.

The Northern Jacana is one of the species I assumed I wouldn't see in my lifetime, they are that rare north of the border. On the left is a photo (again, not mine) of an adult Northern Jacana. Note the wicked yellow spurs on the wing joints. The birds use the spurs in combat with each other, and give the species a Jurassic look.

There used to be about 40 of these birds in a refuge in Texas, but that population died out. Now it is a treat for a bird or two to wander over the border and grace the wetlands of Texas. Well worth coming down to the Big Star State for a peek.

Now, I did not come down to Texas specifically to see the next species I went after. The Red-crowned Parrots are always around the Valley, but as I never managed to see them before, so might as well make a go at them now. So with a little internet research, toward's day's end, I drove to an ordinary enough little suburban street in McAllen, Texas. I roamed up and down Dallas Street with eyes and ears focused. The Red-crowns are increasingly rare in its native Mexico, but happily, they thriving in South Texas. I think of the Texas population as a savings account species, meaning if their numbers go missing in Mexico from illegal pet trade snaring, there is a population in Texas so the species has a buffer against extinction.

As twilight approached, After 45 minutes I was convinced I wasn't going to find the parrots. After all, normally the noisy birds are found by spreading 'spotters' with communication devises around so when one finds the parrots, everyone can race to the spot. Here I was, all by my lonesome, trying to do the work of twenty birders on foot.

Suspicious squawks rang out.

I headed towards the sound, and faced a couple of suburban homes with tall trees canopied over their roofs - and there they were - LIFERS!
Red-crowned Parrots Photo by Brian Plath
I could not believe my luck. I've attended two birding festivals in the Valley, and both times failed at finding the species. So I was happy to be able to enjoy them as they leapt and fluttered from branch to branch, settling in for their long evening roost.


Suddenly like a cannon shot, parrots SCREAMED, shooting out of the trees, hysterical flocks, frantically flying off . Nearly as startled as the birds, I watched as they disappeared, wondering, 'what the...? Most likely a predator scared them, but what?Owl? Raccoon? Cat? I'll never know. I waited around but the birds never returned, so I headed back to my motel. The score for this impromptu trip was two lifer species, and that's not too shabby a start.

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