Sunday, April 12, 2015

March Madness - Searching for Spring - Part 3

This blog posting only covers one day, Monday, March 23, because of the excellent Rio Grande Valley sites visited and the number of good photos obtained. We started at sunrise at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, and as usual we were greeted by the friendly Plain Chachalacas along the entrance road.
Plain Chachalaca. Bentsen-Rio Grande SP, Texas

A visit to the photo blinds is always highly recommended here, as views of many species are much better than along the roads, though there are many feeder stations scattered around the park as well. This is especially true for the shy White-tipped Dove.
White-tipped Dove. Bentsen-Rio Grande SP, Texas

A flash is almost essential for a decent photo in the dim lighting conditions that this species prefers, which presents a challenge to avoid "red-eye". After many years of trying, I think I've finally gotten close to the quality of photo I've wanted of this South Texas specialty.
White-tipped Dove. Bentsen-Rio Grande SP, Texas

White-tipped Dove. Bentsen-Rio Grande SP, Texas

White-tipped Dove. Bentsen-Rio Grande SP, Texas

In many areas of Texas, even the abundant Great-tailed Grackle is a bit skittish around cameras. The photo blinds allow you to get closer to them too.
Male Great-tailed Grackle. Bentsen-Rio Grande SP, Texas

Female Great-tailed Grackle.

We probably saw, and heard, more Golden-fronted Woodpeckers in this park than anywhere in South Texas on this trip.
Golden-fronted Woodpecker. Bentsen-Rio Grande SP, Texas

The female Blue Bunting that had been photographed in the park about a week prior, had unfortunately not been seen since. We had planned to go to the hawk observation tower at the southern end of the park to see if any migration was going on, but it was quite foggy so we decided to leave the park. On the way out, there were two Green Jays displaying to each other right in front of the visitor's center. It involved various vocalizations, bowing, head bobbing, body bobbing, and passing food back and forth.
Green Jays. Bentsen-Rio Grande SP, Texas.

Green Jays. Bentsen-Rio Grande SP, Texas.

From Bentsen, we headed next to the National Butterfly Center, only about a mile away. But first we went to lunch; not an easy task since there isn't really much around the park, nor back at the freeway - a real business opportunity for someone. When we returned to the Butterfly Center the fog was lifting and the clouds were breaking up. A good afternoon for butterfly watching, although only perhaps a dozen species were in evidence. Easiest to see was the large, orange relative of the Monarch, the Queen.
Queen. National Butterfly Center, Texas.

Queen. National Butterfly Center, Texas.

There were several Red Admirals around, as well as several Checkered Skippers, but they did not sit still. A wonderful Giant Swallowtail, one of several flying around, came into a small tree and stayed a while. It was oddly small; much smaller than the ones we see in Michigan, which is typical of the South Texas form, which is said to be indistinguishable from the rare Thoas Swallowtail.
Giant Swallowtail. National Butterfly Center, Texas.

Among the smaller butterflies that could be identified was one skipper that seemed to be most common that I'm pretty sure was the Sachem.
Sachem. National Butterfly Center, Texas.

Sachem. National Butterfly Center, Texas.

And one small hairstreak at the edge of the woods seemed to be the Dusky-blue Groundstreak.
Dusky-blue Groundstreak. National Butterfly Center, Texas.

Walking around in the small patch of woods at the southern end of the property, we were surprised to find two Clay-colored Thrushes, which did not really cooperate very well for photos.
Clay-colored Thrush. National Butterfly Center, Texas.

And we stumbled across a nesting box occupied by an Eastern Screech-Owl. The ones in South Texas are of the subspecies mccallii, which is a bit different in appearance from Eastern (more like Western) with somewhat different vocalizations.
Eastern (Mexican) Screech-Owl.
National Butterfly Center, Texas.

At the feeders, we saw less than we did in 2012. There was another Hispid Cotton Rat.
Hispid Cotton Rat. National Butterfly Center, Texas.

And we had a very close encounter with a Golden-fronted Woodpecker.
Golden-fronted Woodpecker. National Butterfly Center, Texas.

The sky had cleared off considerably, and there was some migration right over the National Butterfly Center. My attention was drawn to the call of a Gray Hawk circling overhead, and when I got binoculars on it, a Cooper's Hawk started diving at it. Then, in the background of the same binocular view, 44 Sandhill Cranes passed by! As we were departing the Center, another hawk was seen overhead, a nice pale morph Swainson's Hawk.
Swainson's Hawk. National Butterfly Center, Texas.

Swainson's Hawk. National Butterfly Center, Texas.

Swainson's Hawk. National Butterfly Center, Texas.

From here, our original plan was to head west to Salineno to see some other South Texas specialties, including another attempt to photograph Audubon's Oriole. But since it was after 2 p.m., and the round-trip drive would have been 4 hours, we decided to go to another excellent site that was closer; Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. An attempt to find the reported Tropical Parula was not successful, and there weren't many butterflies around, though surprisingly one truly common species here was very scarce at the National Butterfly Center - the Phaon Crescent.
Phaon Crescent. Santa Ana NWR, Texas.

The only other photo opportunity was of a cooperative, though obscurely marked,  Greater Earless Lizard along the trail.
Greater Earless Lizard. Santa Ana NWR, Texas.

From here, we had to stop at a place to get new tires for the car, as we were unsure about driving the 1500 miles home on the retread and the other worn tires. We were too late to get them done today, so had to schedule for the first thing tomorrow morning. The next installment of this blog will pick up after that mundane task, and will take us up through coastal Texas and home.

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