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More Birding Estero Llano

Sunday, November 18, 2012

As luck would have it, the Saturday field trip I was helping to lead went to Estero Llano Grande again. That's fine with me. I'd go there every day and be perfectly happy.

Who wouldn't be, with Harris' hawks perched overhead and rasping? This is North America's only social hawk. They hunt cooperatively, winged wolves; one of them driving the prey out into the open and another one or two snatching the hapless thing. So when you see one Harris' hawk, you often see a couple more.

Dawn clouds scudded in an already quickening breeze.

We had a whole charter busload of birders and Estero Llano did not disappoint. I was honored to co-lead with Dave Irons, Shawneen Finnegan and George Armistead. I love these people who love birds. Here's handsome George, pointing stuff out. His ornithologist/librarian/bibliophile father Harry reviewed The Bluebird Effect for Library Journal. Was mostly kind. George, Bill, Jeff Gordon and I worked together on Identify Yourself, as well. What fun to be in the field! The Rio Grande Valley Festival was a homecoming.

Estero Llano is a good place for birds and birders. You may recognize this name (Benton Basham) as an influential early member of the American Birding Association and holder of a North American Big Year listing record of 710 species for quite some time. He's an anesthesiologist who also catalogues butterflies (the logical next step when you run out of birds). His US life list hovers around 868 species. You'd kind of have to have a good day job to do that.

Nearby, a curve-billed thrasher took the sun in a brushpile.

A Teleos longtail, one of the tropical longtail skippers Basham probably sees every day.

Feeders at Estero Llano attract many birds, like this great kiskadee, whose lusty EAT your BEANS call brightens the already sunny days.

Sigh. My best photo of a green jay. I'd forgotten how electric, how elusive they can be. Flashes of neon, raspy calls, then they move on. Makes me love my comparatively phlegmatic but no less flashy blue jays all the more.

Now this is another thing we don't have: green kingfishers. Ohh beautiful bird.

Caught a fish, she did (you can tell it's a girl by her rusty bra).

And swallered it down.

 There's one of those fabulous great kiskadees again. That's a flycatcher what am a flycatcher. Doubt he bothers with flies, probably more into the dragonfly/grasshopper/katydid thing with a bill like that.

Devilishly difficult to photograph a ladder-backed woodpecker, which is the ecological equivalent of the downy in South Texas. They're always on the other side of the limb, tapping away.

A lovely flight of long-billed curlews goes over, reminding me yet again that I'm not in Ohio.

and a mottled duck drops into the lagoon.

The unlikely star of the show was a northern beardless tyrannulet, a tropical flycatcher much sought after in South Texas. Dave Irons knew just where he'd be, trilling dryly. I remembered beardless tyrannulets from the Brasilian Amazon, remembered their call. Amazing, to have that memory sift up through my much-used gray matter.

Liam's paraque was in exactly the same spot she was two days ago, but this time she was looking at us with eyes in the back of her head. I've got those too. Ask Liam. (He really thought I did have them for the longest time; he used to sort through my hair to find them. How else could I know what he was doing behind my back?)

I love this shot! The bird is facing away. I'm still trying to figure out why the paraque would roost just inches off the trail and put up with being awakened dozens of times each day by gawking birders. What is it about that exact spot that makes it worthwhile for the bird to stay there? File under Things I'll Never Understand But am Thankful For.

I didn't expect to come away from a bird festival in Texas with a vision straight out of the wild blue sky of North Dakota. White pelicans wheel over Estero Llano, and I found myself wondering if I'd look up smiling next June during our Prairie Ramble and draw in my breath at the same bird circling near Chase Lake.

You never know who you'll run into at a birding festival.


we just pulled our motorhome into the Bentsen area and will visit Estero Llano in the next few days - sorry we missed the festival...

I see you have the same romantic notions of seeing the same bird (individual, that is) at different times of the year on seemingly disparate reaches of the continent. I had the same thoughts about the pelicans from our trip there in June, and I've mused about warblers seen in January in Florida and then in Newfoundland building nests in June. There's something comforting in believing that you're seeing the same little bird, arrived at the same location you have, but via tiny feathered wings rather than a hulking metal vehicle.

I believe I whispered "'till we meet again" to a soaring flock of pelicans near San Antonio before flying home from the RGVBF.

Oh wow, the northern beardless tyranulet - that brings back memories of the only one I've seen. A friend and I were camping at Benson Rio-Grande State Park back when camping was allowed. We were befriended by a couple of English guys who showed us the northern beardless tyranulet and a pygmy owl. Since then, I've always made it a point to talk to any guys I hear talking the Queen's English.

And one of them was Richard Crossley, visiting at Anahuac who then offered to autograph all his books we were selling and drove thirty miles out of his way to come back the following day to autograph my personal copy.

Wonderful photos of wonderful birds. Those pelicans do take you full circle don't they. I was watching Snow and Ross Geese, and Greater and lesser Sandhill Cranes in the Albuquerque area while you were in Texas. I was wondering to myself what it would take to see them in their summer home to take us full circle.

Thanks for sharing some of the memories you are making while jogging some of my own.

Fondly yours,
Kathy in Delray Beach

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