I have been meaning to visit the Lower Rio Grande Valley basically ever since I started birding, but for one reason or another it never materialized. Now with various threats to some of the spots by an impending border wall, I thought it was time and so I took the initiative and booked a long weekend and somehow convinced my two brothers to join me. In hindsight this trip was a bit on the early side as it is still very hot down there but I figured we might still get some migrating passerines and I was right about that. We flew into Brownsville and landed at about midnight. It was a fortuitous start with none of us having travel delays and all arriving on the last flight from DFW together.
Getting my brothers up early for dawn is tricky, but we managed to get to our first stop at Sabal Palm Sanctuary fairly early. It was hot and humid already at 8am and the bugs (mozzies and noseeums) were thick. But after slathering on some bug juice we slogged through this gem of a park and quickly picked up some ABA life birds.
Great Kiskadee at the visitor's center.
My lifer Couch's Kingbird. I had no idea they would be this easy. Right after we got out of the car one was fly catching and vocalizing right away. The calls are very easy to distinguish from the similar Tropical Kingbird.
If you don't hear them call, it is somewhat difficult to tell them apart, but one field mark is the bill proportions. Couch's is more short and stubby.
Green Kingfisher - this was heavily cropped but as a ABA lifer I was not about to dismiss the sighting due to poor photos.
Least Grebe with a big dragonfly. I have seen these in the Bahamas but it was nice to pick one up for the ABA.
Sickle-winged Skipper - although I did not try for leps and odes very hard, if they presented themselves to me, I snapped their photos.
Another presumed Couch's although I don't recall if this one vocalized.
This one looked more like a Tropical but I did not hear it call.
Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were thick in the field approaching the Sanctuary.
Although we did see other LRGV birds like Gray Hawk and the amazing Green Jay, I will spare you sub par pictures and post those species from other spots with better photos. Overall Sabal Palm is a wonderful park which straddles the border and is threatened by Trump's stupid border wall. I am hoping he never gets the funding but that big orange baby is persistent and usually gets what he wants. If you create a huge border wall, where do you stop? The majority of people driving the economy in the LRGV are of Mexican descent and they are hard working decent people. I didn't run into one rapist or drug dealer in my 4 days there. Maybe Trump just hangs out in the wrong circles. We need to create more efficient, better and more inclusive immigration policy. The wall is just a bandaid and will not work. Anyway I am sure I am preaching to the choir for the most part. If you don't like my politics, you don't need to read my blog or just ignore the text.
Harris Hawks were very common. This one was on the was to South Padre Island.
At South Padre it was hot! 95 F and humid. We reasoned that shore birds would stick around in the hottest part of the day whereas the passerines in other locations would not. Once again my scientific hypothesis was proven out.
Long-billed Curlew - nowhere to hide.
For some reason I changed my mind about this being a Mottled Duck when we were there but now I see it is one for sure. In fact I remember when it flew it had no white borders on the speculum. Here you can see the unmarked buffy throat and the black spot on the gape.
Juvenile Black-bellied Whistling-duck.
Next up we visited the famous Laguna Atascosa and surrounding area looking for the Aplomado Falcon.
At the Visitor's Center we got our first good looks in decent light of the Green Jays. Absolutely stunning birds.
My brother Noah's favorite moment was when we found this Nine-banded Armadillo. Now don't go counting bands, it's the only species found in North America. I think the 9th band is not very noticeable and according to Wiki they don't all have 9 bands.
White-tailed Kite - we ended up missing Aplomado Falcons on this try and the sun was rapidly disappearing but this White-tailed Kite was a nice consolation.
Don't despair my dear readers, on Day 2 we went back to an area with more Aplomado sightings and did end up finding one although I cannot say we crushed it. It was quite far up on a large transmission wire. I should have taken a picture of the actual lake for you, it was chock full of hundreds of thousands of ducks, pelicans and shore birds but none of us had a scope and it was getting late by the time we made it to the lake. Some other day I will go back and bring my scope.
By the way, if you make it down to Brownsville, "don't be an idiot" and go eat at Taqueria El Taco Loco. It rivals the best taco I have ever had (La Tiendita in San Clemente). Taqueria El Taco Loco has very simple corn tortillas and garnishes with cilantro, onions and cotija cheese which is different than my usual favorites that have no cheese. But the real life of the party is the meats. They had Bistec which were perfectly seasoned beef, and they had Tacos de Trompo which is like al Pastor. However the Tripa Dorado were the best hands down which really surprised me because I have always shied away from Tripe. I only tried it because my brothers raved about it and the guy brought out a plate with samples of all the different kinds of meats. Definitely delish. We went back the last night to make up for some horrid tacos we had in the middle of the trip. It is a little unassuming restaurant in a residential area off the main roads and the guy at the counter didn't speak any English. On the last night we went, they had this amazing Mexican singer on the big screen belting out some serious tunes and we really felt like we weren't in Kansas (Texas in this case) anymore.
Day 2 of the trip coming to a blog near you soon...