Thursday, May 24, 2012

Humming Along in Texas

It's a challenge to sort through all the fantastic birds I saw in Texas, but sometimes, you have just have to start with small steps - or small birds. On the trip, I added two new hummingbirds to my life list: the buff-bellied hummingbird and the ruby-throated hummingbird.

The buff-bellied hummingbird is a south Texas specialty, and I saw my first one at Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen; a wonderful urban birding oasis with 20 acres of gardens to explore for up close views of some fantastic species. The birds are so used to visitors, in fact, they don't seem to mind a bit of close interaction, and the buff-bellieds posed beautifully for me both times I visited the property.

The ruby-throated hummingbird is far more widespread and passes through south Texas in huge numbers during migration (and more than a few linger for breeding), but has been a nemesis for me ever since I became a birder. I grew up in the east and I clearly remember seeing hummingbirds at my grandmother's feeders, but because I wasn't a birder at that time and wasn't watching for field marks and good views, I was unable to add the bird to my very picky life list once I started counting. Fortunately, on the last day of my trip while we spent time at Estero Llano Grande State Park, a gorgeous male ruby-throat was staking out his territory near one of the feeding stations, and while I wasn't quite so close to get a good photo, there's no mistaking the glowing red gorget. Another lifer!

It is interesting how the smallest birds can be some of the most rewarding to see; not only these hummingbirds, but the black-chinned hummingbirds recently arrived at the feeders dangling off my deck. Now I just have to manage a photo of those beauties as well!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Everything's Bigger in Texas

I spent a week earlier this month as a guest of the McAllen Convention and Visitors' Bureau in south Texas, visiting more than a dozen local birding hotspots to review them. I knew the birding life was different so far from Utah, but within just a day or two, I was overwhelmed. Each day brought new lifers, new habitats, and new features to explore in a wide range of stunning locations. It is going to take me some time to sort out all that I gleaned from the trip, but one thing is certain: with more than 130 birds seen (this despite early afternoon finishes, no night birding, time spent taking notes rather than dedicated birding, and a lack of visits to the western, drier region and its unique birds) and an amazing 66 lifers, there is no denying that everything is bigger in Texas!

Some random highlights from the trip...
  • Outstanding views of many south Texas specialty birds, including plain chachalacas, green jays, and buff-bellied hummingbirds.
  • My first exposure to real Mexican food, igniting a passion for refried beans, guacamole, and chorizo that I'm going to find it hard to quench at home.
  • Learning  to go birding in jeans even in high heat and humidity, given the scores of mosquitoes that take advantage of any bare skin.
  • Meeting a wide range of outstanding people, all of whom love birding in some way and help to bring it to their individual communities.
  • Seeing the Rio Grande River and walking through the infamous border fence (not that it was all that hard to do, given the huge gap right in the road).
Of course, now I have my work cut out for me to complete each review (which I'm happy to do), along with several other articles on local birding books, tips for birding in the region, and other information that will be helpful to anyone planning to go birding in the Rio Grande Valley. Stay tuned!