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Friday, February 19, 2016

What's Blue and AWESOME?

Street view of the 15 acre Frontera Audubon in Weslaco, Texas
Can barely bring myself to believe it is only day two of my impromptu Texas trip, yet I've already managed to see two lifer species. With those thoughts I set my iPhone GPS this morning and drove to Frontera Audubon. This one itty bitty 15 acre site full of brambles and thickets, holds three rare species I am anxious to see: Blue Bunting, Tropical Parula, Crimson-collared Grosbeak and Groove-billed Ani.
Frontera's Visitor Center Patio
Once on the site, I hit the Visitor Center, and paid my $5 entry fee. The Visitor Center is a pretty little patio'd former house (or so I believe). The greeter, a nice lady took the time to give me a map and point out where I needed to go to find the Blue Bunting. I sallied forth and was lost within 5 minutes. Yes. I am pathetic. I returned to the lady and she set me straight, so I was off once again - this time on the correct route.

I was immediately in love with the place. The trails were naturally soft, foot friendly, the stretches to navigational signs were short, and best of all, a lovely canopy formed from the thickets made the trails shadowy - cool - in short, totally 'Claire friendly'. Before long I arrived at the spot where the Blue Bunting had most recently been seen.

The thicket was pretty ordinary and notable only by the nearly invisible shallow, human-made pond in its center. In front of the area sat four grim looking birders. I dared not speak, but sat on a bench next to them, and like them, stared grimly at the thicket - to no notable avail.

Eventually I spoke, asking about the target Bunting, and was told it had shown earlier in the day, and hadn't been seen since. Uh.. huh. Rats. I rose, and decided to further investigate. Off down the trail I went.

There was no lack of bird-life in the woods. A noisy flock of the parrots which only the evening before had been lifers for me, flew by overhead. There were also several rest areas with jumbles of feeders filled with titmouses, numerous Northern Cardinals, little Buff-breasted Hummingbirds and noisy Chachalacas.
Crested Titmouse 
Buff-breasted Hummingbird
 There were even a few surprises, like this Ovenbird I enjoyed watching skulking through the underbrush.
Ovenbird - difficult to photograph through thick foliage,
that hopped around, and drew quite a viewing audience
 I never stopped searching for the Bunting, and kept returning to the first spot, where disappointment reigned. Birders are normally a friendly bunch, and this time there was no exception. Cooperatively we all kept each other posted on what birds we saw and what tales of the wayward Bunting other birders had passed onto us. I swapped cell phone numbers with an older guy from Atlanta Georgia, and we pledged to give each other a ring if the Bunting showed up.

A chuffy little Olive Sparrow, moving about like a mouse in the underbrush
Then it happened. First I got a call from the Georgia birder, that he'd spotted the Bunting on the trail and asking me to therefore make my approach slowly. I did so, but the bunting had already vamoosed. I sat down at the bench and again, held vigil at the thicket by the pond - but not for long. The Blue Bunting flew into the understory of the thicket and landing on a shrub, and proceeded to pose. LIFER!
The little Bunting was a lovely deep cobalt blue with black feathers around his eyes and bill
He had quite an excited audience watching his every move
One last view of that cheeky right profile and little blue boy was off again!
 HURRAH, another lifer, and this time I had the satisfaction of photos of my treasure! When the bunting took off, we congratulated ourselves and I chalked up, without the benefit of owning chalk, mind you, lifer birdy number 3 for this trip. Maybe it wasn't a frivolous idea to come down to Texas on such short notice after all.

I walked around a bit more in hopes of perhaps spotting the three other birds I wanted to see at this site, but when they were a no show, I headed for the exit. On the way I met a birder who asked about the Bunting and I filled him in on its probable locations. He filled me in on where he'd just viewed another rarity, a White-throated Thrush. The bird was quite near the same refuge where I saw the Northern Jacana yesterday. Hum... suspect I know where I will head off to in the morning!

The miracle of the
Christmas Blue Bunting
[Update: I have long collected the Hallmark 'Beauty of Birds' miniature ornaments. Last year's 2015 mini-Christmas ornament was a Blue Bunting. I thought that was a weird choice. After all, a Blue Bunting is rare in the States, while the Indigo Bunting is common. I thought, "How crazy to choose the Blue Bunting over the Indigo, Hallmark must think no one will know 'Indigo' means blue, or that the Blue Bunting is quite rare in the U.S." Flash forward to today, and suddenly the Blue Bunting ornament I bought at Christmas now holds meaning as a treasured bird on my life list. Hummm.... how did Hallmark know?]

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