Monday, November 11, 2013


One of the annoying things about owning a smart phone is that you're always checking it. At least I am. It's addictive. Maybe there's a new bird somewhere? Maybe someone's reading my blog? Maybe Jay Leno is trying to get me on his show? Maybe my lazy cats have finally learned how to text and tell me what they're up to? 

Today I'm at Anzalduas (again) looking for Hook-billed Kites (again.) It's a beautiful day. The only sounds are a lone fisherman casting his line into the murky Rio Grande, and the occasional vvrrooooom of a border patrol boat.

The Rio Grande. Because of a weird bend in the river, 
this is one of the few places where you're actually looking north into Mexico.

Oh yes. My cell phone. Gotta keep checking...

Rose-throated Becard. 

Oh. Wow. That's totally on my hoped-for list. At Santa Ana. That's less than 30 minutes away! As I'm folding up my scope / running to the car / looking for car keys / trying not to drop stuff (seriously), I'm thinking about the occasional luck I've had this year. It's really magical when things are aligned, and you find yourself in the right place at the right time. Although before I get too carried away, I have to remind myself that the right place is still 30 minutes away, and I haven't seen the bird yet.

I arrive in the parking lot at Santa Ana (without a speeding ticket) and spot a couple of birders. They haven't seen the bird since it was first spotted. But they're still looking. Then I meet the guy who found the bird - Bob Behrstock. I'd never met Bob before, despite sitting in his Arizona back yard all day! He graciously allowed me to come see his Plain-capped Starthroat this summer while he was out of town. His partner Karen is an avid (and extremely talented) gardener, and has created a really spectacular native collection of desert plants. I really enjoyed meeting her (and seeing the Starthroat - eventually!) and I was happy to finally meet Bob. I even got to chat to Karen on the phone - and was happy to hear she's reading my blog!

While not seeing the Becard, I also ran into another famous birder - Mary Gustafson. Mary runs the Lower Rio Grande Valley Rare Bird Alert, and it was her message to the Texas  listserv that had me speeding here (thank you Mary!) As the day continues to warm, Bob and Mary eventually leave, replaced by new birders hoping to see the Becard.

I spend the next couple of hours walking around not seeing anything. It's a fairly small circuit - around the parking lot and HQ building, but the vegetation is thick and dark. There's not much movement anywhere, except for a roving group of Groove-billed Anis. 

As I'm beginning to give up hope, I decide to take a side trail that I hadn't taken before. It loops around the back of the bird feeding area, and dead-ends at some picnic tables. It's a very short trail that forces me to quickly turn around and return. And as I do so, something catches my eye - a barely perceptible movement above me. The light's bad, but I can make out the silhouette of a bird. And even before I get my bins on it, I can tell from the structure - large head, thick neck, dark cap - that this is it - the becard! It's silent, and moves slowly and secretively. Occasionally, I see a flash of the stunning rose color on the throat (it's a young male.)

Rose-throated Becard - dark cap, large head, rufus-brown back, and bright rose throat.
A common breeder in Mexico south to Panama, and rare breeder and visitor to the US.

What a stunning bird! And well worth the wait. I call Mary - who's just arrived back home, and alert the other birders present before leaving. I return to Anzalduas - for another Kite-free Kite search. And a quick walk through the grassy field again shows there's no Sprague's Pipits today. It's a great park, and there are a couple of nice birds...

Roseate Spoonbill

Muscovy Duck - probably a domestic bird.

But maybe the children should be playing somewhere else?

I have no return ticket home and no real plan for what to do next - so really, no different from much of my year. But there's a very tempting Steak-backed Oriole in neighboring New Mexico. It was found yesterday, but was extremely difficult to see and relocate. For most birds I've chased (or not chased) this year - I have a sort of mental algorithm based on pros and cons. Here's my thought process for this bird:

1. It's a really beautiful bird
2. It's a life bird
3. It's a Big Year bird

1. It's an 11 hour drive from here
2. I might miss it
3. I have to drive back after seeing or not seeing it
4. It's in the same general area as the Blue-footed Booby that I missed 
5. It's an 11 hour drive from here

And before I talk myself out of it, I get in the car and start driving north. It's 4:20pm as I leave McAllen. It's going to be a very long evening and night, with just the lingering thoughts of the becard to keep me company...

+ + +

BIG YEAR LIST: 729 + 2 provisional (Rufous-necked Wood-rail, Common Redstart)

NEW YEAR BIRDS (1): Rose-throated Becard


  1. Way to go Neil! Keep going! You need to chase every possible bird at this point probably. Is there a high percentage of birders that are Trekkies? My best advice and not giving up on a bird is from Kahn, who quotes it from Moby Dick. “He tasks me. He tasks me; and I shall have him. I’ll chase him ’round the moons of Nibia and ’round the Antares maelstrom and ’round Perdition’s flames before I give him up.”

  2. Even though I'm in Bhutan, about to lead a group of monks on their first birdwatching tour, I still cant resist checking in on your blog. Good luck with the rest of the year, and thanks for the great blog!

  3. I assume you are up to speed on the two Rufous-backed Robins in Cameron, AZ (near Flagstaff)?

    Steve Bobonick