Wednesday, October 23, 2013


It's Wednesday, so it must be Texas.

I flew in yesterday from LAX to San Antonio, followed by a 4 hour drive south to the Rio Grande Valley. I'm here for the Golden-crowned Warbler. This is a bird usually at home in Mexico and further south.  But very occasionally it ventures north of the border (at least 16 times to Texas, and once to New Mexico) - where it sometimes ends up wintering. John Vanderpoel was lucky enough to see one during his Big Year. And I was very excited to see the report of a bird during mine.
Frontera Audubon, Weslaco, Texas
A Golden-crowned Warbler has been here for 11 days.
(And hopefully a 12th!)

I stayed in nearby McAllen last night, where I discovered two things:

(i) Green Parakeets are a lot easier to find when you're not looking for them (and don't need them!)

I stopped on 10th St after hearing the screeching calls, and ended up seeing over 300 birds, including this pair of yellow birds (lutino mutants which lack the dark melanin.) 
I put many hours in during the spring trying to find these guys.

(ii) there's a very good coffee shop in South Texas:


OK. I know - enough with the coffee. What about the Golden-crowned Warbler?

Well, I spent 5 hours at Frontera, most of it staring into the deep thicket around which the main path winds

Dense thicket.

And in all that time I managed to find the bird once, and watch it for about 10 seconds - half of which the bird spent eating a caterpillar! This was a life bird for me, and after recovering from the initial excitement, I was surprised just how yellow the underparts were (very lemony) and how bright the central crown stripe was. It was extremely skulking, and like most observers here, I failed to get a picture. And while I'd love to have seen the bird for longer, I was very happy that I did see it; many birders have tried here and missed.

While waiting for the warbler, I did manage to enjoy some of the other wildlife here, including some of the (very many) butterflies feeding and flitting about in the shafts of sunlight

Queen Butterfly - underwing

Queen Butterfly upperwing - related to the Monarch Butterfly

as well as a Buff-bellied Hummingbird coming to a feeder

Buff-bellied Hummingbird - a resident hummer of the Rio Grande Valley.

After coming up short on the recent Bodega Bay trip, and missing the Bean Goose at the Salton Sea, I was happy to finally get a new bird for the year. And tomorrow - I'm hoping to add another. My trip home takes me via St. Louis. Any guesses as to what avian excitement awaits me there??

+ + +

BIG YEAR LIST: 725 + 2 provisional (Rufous-necked Wood-rail, Common Redstart)

NEW YEAR BIRDS (1): Golden-crowned Warbler


  1. Hi Neil: Congrats on finding the Golden crowned. I spent the winter in Mission Texas two seasons ago. The Golden crowned was in the same patch, and I was glad I was living there at the time, as it took me and lots of other birders several tries to find it, and, like you, only getting brief looks without any pictures; a very skulky bird.
    Good luck with the Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

    1. Yes - that's the bird John Vanderpoel saw in his Big Year. Well done for eventually getting it!

      - Neil

  2. Eurasian Tree Sparrow? Good luck!

  3. I heard the zoo might be good for them.

  4. Neil, your doing great! Man, I think you got a chance at the record. Sharp-tailed should be pretty easy. Corey Ellingson in Bismarck, Ron Martin in Minot and Dave Lambeth in Grand Forks all could help you on spots.

  5. I find it quite interesting how living in Asia has changed my perspective. ETS's are the House Sparrow of East Asia. Very, very common bird here that I wouldn't give a second thought to (some would use the term "trash bird"). Yet, it is a North American big year birder target. Really interesting to me. Anyways, congrats on the warbler and best of luck looking for your big year ETS, Neil!!

  6. Neil, your doing great! I think you got a chance of breaking the record. Corey Ellingson in Bismarck, Ron Martin in Minot or Dave Lambeth in Grand Forks all could help you were to find the latest sightings. All nice guys. Good Luck with the grouse, should be easy.

  7. Neil, where did you go for the sparrows? There are loads of good places in IL for them if you happen to still need them now...