Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Birding Life, travels throughout the land - part one

Its been a long time since my last post. Part of the reason for my lack of posts have been my many travels both for work and vacation.
The first week of June found me in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Currently I am working on a technical report for the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and needed to visit the area to talk with the biologists and managers who run and do research on the refuge. Mixing meetings and visiting the various refuge tracts during the day, and birding during the early mornings and evenings, I managed to see quite the variety of bird, butterfly and other animal life.

Plain Chachalacas are quite common and easy to see at Santa Ana NWR, my home base for my week long fact finding tour of the LRGV.

The predominant habitat community at Santa Ana NWR has been described as Mid-valley riparian woodland, this is essentially a bottomland hardwood community dominated by cedar elms, Berlandier ash and sugar hackberry, all draped in Spanish Moss.

I arrived in the valley during an intense thunderstorm. I knew that the much needed rain in the dry valley would bring out some interesting herps, including this Sheep Frog. This species' range barely reaches the U.S. only in very south Texas. Sheep Frogs are microhylids, this frog family has many members like the sheep frog that spend much of their time under leaf litter and specialize on eating ants and termites. This is a threatened species in Texas.

The Lower Rio Grande Valley, particularly these forested areas along the Rio Grande are important stopover habitats for neotropical migrant songbirds, including this very late (June 2!) migrating Olive-sided Flycatcher.

Texas Tortoises are listed as endangered in Texas. In the LRGV they rely on Upland Thornscrub habitats many of which have been degraded or destroyed. Many of the better areas left for this species lie on LRGV NWR lands.

The valley has the greatest butterfly diversity in the United States, here we have a Ceraunus Blue.
What would a visit to the LRGV be without watching some Green Jays for awhile. I followed around this likely family group as they foraged and interacted with one another.

The Chachalacas on the refuge are usually quite tame.

The managed oxbow wetlands, known locally as Resacas, are important habitat for many wetlands birds, like this Tricolored Heron.

More examples of the great diversity of butterflies found in the LRGV, from top, Tawny Emporer, Carolina Satyr, Clouded Skipper, Fiery Skipper, Teleas Longtail, Western Pygmy Blue (probably the worlds' smallest butterfly, and Clytie Ministreak.

The LRGV is also home to the Giant Toad (also known as the Cane Toad and other names). This species dwarfs the American Toads known by most people. It has become a problem in some areas where it has been introduced, in the valley however they are a native species.

The LRGV is home to several species of native cats. The Ocelot and Jaguarandi are both federally endangered and extremely difficult to see. Bobcats however are quite a lot more common, I actually saw them on multiple occassions on my evening hikes around Santa Ana.

Everywhere in the valley you are reminded that Mexico is literally only just across the river. This is of course both a blessing and a curse. Just another one of the many issues in a complicated land.

The LRGV NWR also includes lands on the Gulf of Mexico. These areas are some of the best preserved habitats for shore and seabirds left on the Texas Coast. Here we see a flock of mostly Royal Terns.

Black Mangroves along the mouth of the Rio Grande provide the farthest south habitat for Seaside Sparrows, as well as habitat for Mangrove Warblers, a distinctive race of the Yellow Warbler, that may warrent species status.

The Boca Chica beach tract of the LRGV provides habitat for rare and threatened species, including the above Piping Plover and below Least Tern, the beach is also a nesting ground for the endangered Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle.

The LRGV national wildlife refuges and associated Word Bird Centers, provide some of the best remainging habitat in the United States for many birds of more tropical origins. These include the above Groove-billed Ani, as well as the Gray Hawk, adult and nest with nestlings pictured above. Without these areas, many of the birds that draw thousands of birders and millions of ecotourism dollars in the LRGV region each year would lose their foothold in the United States.


  1. Enjoyed this post greatly, for a myriad of reasons. We could certainly go into long discourse about some of the topics brought up. Love the pic of the Clytie M'streak, great bug! I have seen Gray Hawk on more than one occasion, never have I been under one as illustrated in your pic. Very cool! When you find the combination of time, energy, motivation, and inspiration to post about your trekkings in the RGV please do keep it up. The places and organisms you are currently experiencing hold an important part in a couple of people's lives :-)


  2. ...I think I've seen that Gray Hawk nest, actually =)