I spent three days looking up, and what did I see? Well, it was a hawk watch, vulture watch, anything watch, except for I guess a hook-billed kite watch. The hook-billed remained...sadly...uncounted, but well, I saw a lot of migrating hawks including the above broad-winged hawk and at least 70 of its pals fly over head migrating north, I saw somethings that well...we'll get to that..
The stakeout at Bentsen for hawks was so much fun (sic), I drove over to Salineno to stakeout red-billed pigeons one afternoon and evening. 15 Hours on a dike or hawk tower wasn't enough, so I supplemented that with five hours on a boat landing looking at Mexico...
They have been seeing red-billed pigeons, a bird missing from my life list, and one starting to border on becoming a nemesis, (did I say that?) on the island north of the landing and on the island south. It was a hot afternoon and the thermometer was 99 when I walked over to check on the two locations, but there was nothing there, no pigeons, just osprey, six of them in all.
I ran into a friendly Houston birder named Gary Benderim, who was there after the same tough bird, I was. We chatted and he went and checked the surroundings, too. He saw the same seedeater I had, a female type. I went up to the feeding station and found a flock of bobwhite, they still had Altamira and Audubon's orioles but will be closing shop in a few days as the caretakers will be moving on.
I came back down and spotted FOY barn swallows feed over the river. Then fishermen arrived and well first one, then two, then five, one of them caught a small largemouth and one of the osprey caught a catfish but besides that, fishing seemed a bit slow, and generally the ospreys stayed perched. I was dozing off in the heat when all of a sudden something had gotten over me without me noticing it. It could have been the pigeon....but IDK, it was too fast and I was droopy, so I started chain eating mints. I needed to pay attention! Had I missed my chance?
It was dragging on. Gary came back and we watched, waited and hoped, I didn't mention my possible dozing miss....530, 6, 630, and then two birds came at us from Mexico. There was no doubt this time...PIGEONS! The correct ones but they were in Mexico, way in Mexico. Damn! I began to coax them like a golf shot waiting for the action, the wind, or the break to work. They were still coming at us. "Come on, come on!" I yelled. Then they turned to almost Parallel. I swore and then tried to encourage them. "Left! Left! Get into America, come on!" I yelled as if they could hear or understand me. It was then as if waiting for a monster Tiger Woods putt (when Tiger was a monster) to break over an unseen ridge on TV, that the birds started turning towards us again as we stood there transfixed. "Come on, come on, a little more!" I yelled as Gary pulled up his camera and began to take shots. I couldn't take shots as I had to know where these birds were. They were now clearly over the Rio Grande, but where exactly is the border? Where is America? I had heard from multiple sources that it was the channel, but where exactly was that? The birds zipped past as I followed them as they headed east of south dead down the river. "Left!" I yelled one more time and then they veered ever so subtly a little to the left heading towards the island and then I watched as they went over the island clearly on our side. "Yay! ABA!" I jumped and cheered as if the gigantic putt rolled into the hole.
Now, I can say two things about these two pigeons. First, they were undoubtedly red-billed pigeons, and secondly, and unquestionably they crossed into American airspace, at least somewhere in that journey. Was that when they passed us? Possibly, but it was definitely as they took a straight line from us towards that island as the river goes a little more to the right. The bad part of having to watch them and their exact position the whole period was I was unable to take pictures, and there was no way I was going to have those birds out of eye sight at anytime, when I thought they crossed into ABAdom, I shouted it. Gary agreed. Just like a Tiger putt I did a little fist action with the bird. It was in the hole, it is in THE hole...wait, that IS golf. This is birding. Os becomes an Ex...Tick, counted, bird #489. Gary is sending me a copy of a picture he took for my records. Lifer number #734 too. I'm drinking beer tonight, well I didn't but I will get to that.
It isn't like they would be good pictures, here is a ringed kingfisher taken by me a few minutes later. It is the best of ten shots and isn't very good, I look forward to seeing what Gary got. I didn't need it but the kingfisher is in ABAdom, too....see the border?
No, you don't. To be honest I'm not sure where this bird is, but it landed on our shoreline. This you will agree, is really an imperfect science and I saw this bird last year in Roma (I mean same species of pigeon), they never ever crossed the border. I assume the border was past where the guy in Mexico with the jeep drove out past the sand bar. Those pigeons were squarely on the Mexican side IMHO.
WARNING: What I'm about to say should be graphic. It should be laced with expletives and every foul word I could come up with, maybe even using a British dictionary for more. I turned back towards Mission nearing dark and after the traffic being afraid of the plethora of police and stops upon cars next to me three times, for infractions, I couldn't fathom....maybe the truck with the boat failed to yield for a cop but it was solid traffic and I was to his left, so where could he go?
Going 40 in a 60, I finally got to Hidalgo County phew! Wow, I will never EVER, spend a dime in Starr county, either the county is so unsafe as to warrant the occupation by the Texas State Police, so one shouldn't dare venture from your car OR they are just being a public nuisance and either way I want no part of it. You couldn't give me property in that county. Now, finally cruising along at the speed limit, at the Bentsen State park exit, traffic just stopped, no stop and go, just stopped and no go. it took 90 minutes to get to the next exit, Encarnation (sp?) and %^^&...okay construction, no problem but they %^^&$ Texas highway department didn't mark the detour and people were going every which way and the cop gave the frontage road people, where us that were going where we were supposed to go, no turns at the intersection. It took me three hours to go 3 miles, REALLY? I found the Motel 6 in Mission which by the way is NOT findable by Siri on Iphone and I was too pooped to eat, drink beer or anything,...I went to bed.
I moved from the dike to the official hawk watch with the John and usual counters for the next two mornings. The guys have good eyes, especially John's friend, name alludes me. It was not as good of a day as the day before when they saw 11,000 plus vultures. Heck, I saw a lot of vultures from the dike, not that many, but lots.
Then we get to more imperfect science. Hook-billed kites and hawk IDs. Only four species commonly group up here, Vultures, broad winged hawks, Swainson's hawks, and Mississippi kites, the latter two haven't begun coming by yet, so if there is a group of raptors--broad-wings, but single birds of other species will come into a kettle of vulutres especially say, zone-tails which may be a hunting technique. Gray hawks flap and broad wings don;t except with heavy air trying to gain altitude.
So here is a bird from the ground..I'm pushing my lens
I'm thinking Cooper's hawk here.
here is a hook-billed from internet
Now on hawk-watch day II, the guy standing next to me called this bird on Ebird, I bird I clearly remember, BTW, a hook-billed, this is his picture....I will cite if needed but don't want to cast any aspersions.
I had it down also as a Cooper's but...? No one called it hook-billed at the time. This is imperfect. I saw a roosting hook-billed at Santa Ana a few years ago and I know exactly what it was but no photo and no one believed that ebird report. It got up, and flew off back towards Mexico....It is just the way things are. I was standing on the dike when another gentleman came by all excited reporting that they had seen two condors at the bird blind earlier...."Now that is a really good bird." I said not really knowing what else to say...but Condors!!?? I thought giggling to myself. Correct ID'ing of birds takes some practice. It also requires keeping some of these fantastical things to yourself.
About all I do know is this is a white tailed kite.
the weather became even heavier on day #3 and it wasn't until nearly 11 that the vultures and hawks lifted off. I had a bird way out in the scope that I could have called a hook-bill, even the watchers were waiting for my call but I couldn't do it, I just couldn't. IDK, so I leave Texas hookless, so to speak, no hookers, but unless someone has something to enlighten me, I need to come back.
3/14 Bentsen Rio Grande State Park
487. Broad-winged Hawk
488. Barn Swallow
489. Red-billed pigeon
Santa Ana NWR
490. Yellow-throated vireo
491. Stilt Sandpiper
Bentsen Rio Grande State Park
492. Nashville warbler