February 23, Rio Grande Valley

In spite of the bad weather that we had while in Corpus Christi, Riley and I managed to have a good time, taking the boat tour out to see the whooping cranes (more below) and even going to a movie one day. We saw "The Pursuit of Happyness," and liked it. Will Smith deserves his oscar nomination, though even without seeing it we're thinking Forest Whitaker will win for "Last King of Scotland"--good actor. Speaking of movies, we finally saw the new James Bond movie yesterday, "Casino Royale." We liked it but it was very violent--a new kind of Bond--very physical, not so debonair. BTW, anyone wanting to recommend a movie to us is welcome. We seldom see reviews and don't know what movies are currently out or if they are any good. On leaving the Corpus area, we took a birding tour of the King Ranch then headed on down to the lower Rio Grande Valley.

Whooping Crane couple

Single Crane

Here in the Valley we have finally found good weather, in fact the last couple of days have been hot enough that we've been thinking it's summer. We spent several days on South Padre Island at the county park there. We celebrated our 15th anniversary by going out to eat at a fancy seafood restaurant at the marina--very good food. We've done lots of hiking around, mainly on the beach and bird watching. While in Brownsville, my cousin Jan and her husband came down and joined us for dinner--fun. Today we are having some maintenance done on the RV, then tomorrow will head northwest toward Big Bend, stopping at some birding areas on the way.

Green Jays at King Ranch
News from Houston: my Mom and Aubrey have completed their move to Nancy's home and seem to be adjusting well and happily. Yea!

I've cut out all the pieces for my "Turkey Tracks" quilt, and in addition, have completed a "Sleepy Bear" quilt for the grandbaby expected in late August. I used solid colors this time and think it turned out well. I like it.

Love to all,
Margie & Riley

Bird Report

The Whooping Crane boat tour was a lot of fun, no "mal de mer," thank goodness! :-) While there are indeed a record number of cranes in the Refuge this year, we didn't get to see many of them. The tour goes past the ones that have territories on the outskirts of the Refuge. We saw maybe 15--9 at close range. Very impressive birds. Our pictures are not very good. We keep talking about buying a new camera with better telephoto capability, but haven't done so. We saw many other birds on this tour, but no new birds for us. We enjoy seeing the same ones again, and some we don't see often anyway--like the Least Sandpiper and the American Oystercatcher. We also got to see the Reddish Egret in both its white and blue morphs here, and at Matagorda. Seeing it white felt like seeing a new bird.

The tour of the King Ranch was fantastic. We were the only two on the tour and the guide was great. The 3 of us were excited about everything we saw and the tour ended up being an hour longer than scheduled, just because we were having a good time and seeing a lot. We saw 76 species in all, 4 of which were new for us: Couch's Kingbird, Olive Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, and Field Sparrow. We also saw the white juvenile Little Blue Herons for the first time. My brother Richard had recommended this tour, and we are glad we followed up on it. The guide, Tom, gave us a lot of pointers on field marks to be looking for to distinguish sparrows and meadowlarks. Both the Eastern and the Western Meadowlark are in this area during migration--only the Eastern is resident. Even with his hints, the two are very hard to distinguish.

At the RV park where we stayed on Baffin Bay we saw a Shiny Cowbird and a Blue-headed Vireo, as well as the Green Jays for the first time this trip. The Shiny Cowbird was a surprise--seemed an unlikely place for him. I discussed it with our guide on the King Ranch tour, and he was very excited. He said this was the right time to see them on the coast, and planned to go look for it when our tour was over. It was nice to be taken seriously and not just laughed off as not knowing what I was seeing--although admittedly that does happen. :-)

Since we've been in the Valley, we've been going to every birding spot we can find: Laguna Atascosa NWR, Sabal Palms Audubon Bird Sanctuary, and Los Ebonos Preserve to name three. Laguna Atascosa was great as always. We saw two new birds there: the Brown Thrasher and the Hooded Oriole. We also saw the Gray Catbird, which was new for Riley. Sabal Palms always provides good birding but we never seem to see the uncommon ones--both the Gray-crowned Yellowthroat and the Groove-billed Ani had been seen recently, but no luck for us. We still haven't managed to see the Green Kingfisher or the Buff-bellied Hummingbird either, but still hope to before we leave the Valley. Los Ebonos was beautiful and we saw a Long-billed Thrasher, as well as the Hooded Oriole again. We also went to the City Landfill, but the Tamaulipas Crows are no longer there despite what the guidebooks say--lots of Turkey Vultures, Laughing Gulls, Hawks and Great-tailed Grackles. I guess the grackles have taken over from the crows as the resident blackbird. We think we heard the crow at Sabal Palms but did not see it.

At our campground in San Benito, the palm trees next to our RV camp site were mobbed by Green Parakeets about 6 in the evening as they came home to roost. We picked our campground in Brownsville because it advertised the Mexican Parrots were spotted daily, and indeed, the parrots flew over every night just after 6pm and in the mornings at 7am. They're very noisy birds, so always announce their arrival. Their roosting spot was not far away, near the corner of Los Ebonos and El Paso. We went by twice. There were over 50 parrots; the majority were Red-crowned Parrots, about 20 were hybrids, and 1 (that I saw) Yellow-headed Parrot. The hybrids were fairly cool in appearance--yellow foreheads with a large red mask around the eyes.

Happy Birding!

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