Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I was hoping to get some video of the Bentsen Tiger-Heron so walked out on the levee south of the Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park a little before 4 pm today and the top pic is what I saw. The south levee is on the left where the birders are standing--it is higher and affords better views. The trail on the north levee is directly ahead and some of the vegetation on the north side of the cnal in the park's re-veg area is visible on the far right. Over the next hour or so a lot more birders arrived increasing to about 50 at the most.

This time I stood on the south levee just south of the small bridge on the side so I had a better chance of being to the west of the bird which would be the best light. Around 6:15 when we still had not seen the bird, I moved to the west side so I could have a good view of the dirt road that runs north from the bridge as one of last night's birders told me they had seen the bird on that road and flying to/from (?) the grass field east of it. I was watching intently with my very bright Zeiss binoculars about 6:30 pm when I saw the Bare-throated Tiger-Heron fly from the grass fields on the east of the road to an area with trees and tall shrubs on the west of the road. I was fortunate that there was a full moon that provided more light than other nights so I saw the bird make a sharp bank and drop down into the field giving me a view of it's quite thick and bended neck that is quite distinctive. I also saw the very buff coloration that is shown in the photos I posted below.
I walked further looking futilely into the dark fields for several minutes. Then a large heron that looked like the tiger-heron flew from from somewhere on the north to the south side of the canal and at a low level only about 50 ft in front of me. Too dark and fast for me to get any video while the earlier view was too distant. But on the very dark walk back to my car I heard a number of Common Pauraque calls and saw several of them including the one in the bottom pic with it's eye reflecting my flash. There's an awful lot that flies in the dark out there--besides the tiger-heron and pauraques, a smaller heron/egret flew close enough and at eye level that it startled me. SeEtta

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

BARE-THROATED TIGER-HERON: videos from internet

I found these two good videos of BARE-THROATED TIGER-HERONS videotaped in Costa Rica by different persons. The top video by "doctorpyserphd" shows two BARE-THROATED TIGER-HERON engaged in probable courtship behavior in Tortuguero Natl Park, Costa Rica according to the labels. The bottom video shows a single BARE-THROATED TIGER-HERON videotaped in Corcovado Natl Park, Costa Rica, that is engaged in grooming and foraging behavior.
BARE-THROATED TIGER-HERONS are listed as crepuscular, being most active during dawn and dusk. It is interesting that these videos were taken clearly during the daytime (the bottom video in good sunlight) as it has have stated by birders on the Texas listserve that it would be rare to see this species during the day unless it had been flushed from it's roost. The renowned ornithologist Robert Ridgely in A Guide to the Birds of Panama states, "Mainly crepuscular, and at times active even at night (as are other tiger-herons)." I think it is interesting that Ridgely qualifies crepuscular with 'mainly.' SeEtta

Sunday, December 27, 2009


©Michael Packer (copied here by permission)
I found this image on the on the internet at and found it helpful in visualizing the BARE-THROATED TIGER-HERON photo I posted just below, and re-posted above this pic, as it shows the upper wings including the interesting trailing edge that appears scalloped due to the rounded feather ends. I emailed the photographer, Michael Packer, for permission to post this pic on my blog and he promptly replied authorizing my request (I strongly encourage seeking permission before using someone's photographic work--it's like borrowing someone's book without asking).

This bird, that was photographed in Costa Rica, is in juvenal plumage. The bird that is in So. Texas certainly looks a lot like BARE-THROATEDTIGER-HERON in juvenal plumage like this and other I have found on the internet. Others with more experience with this species had identified the Texas bird as an immature transitioning to adult plumage but it seems to be rather early in that transition. SeEtta

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Another Bare-throated Tiger-Heron photo

This really pretty cool pic of the BARE-THROATED TIGER-HERON was buried just to left of the middle of the uncropped pic below. Look carefully--it is flying to the left into the thick vegetation that surrounds the pond on the south side of the canal and the top of it's wing is far to the left of (and in line with) the 2nd line of text. The banding on it's tail is visible in the center bottom of the pic and it's legs show directly to the right of the tail. This shows the beautiful what-looks-like-fringing on the trailing edge of the wings (could this what is called the "vermiculated" wing plumage???).
The dark object across the bottom part of the pic is spotting scope belonging to another birder--one of the pitfalls when quickly photographing flying birds when there are other birders around. It may help to double-click on each of these pics to enlarge them for more detail. SeEtta

Friday, December 25, 2009


These are the next 3 pics in the sequence of photos I took during the 2nd flight of the BARE-THROATED TIGER-HERON.
The bird was well past us in these pics but still going to the left. It was starting to descend to land on the south side of the canal. The bottom pic shows the bird just before it went into the trees in the re-vegetation area which is west of the Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park buildings and volunteer camping area.
Kudos to the staff and volunteers of Bentsen for the great job in planting hundreds of native plants in this area that was previously either onion fields or fallow--clearly the BARE-THROATED TIGER-HERON has found a good place to feed there as it has repeatedly flown into it during the day then flown back to the pond area on the south side of the canal at night to roost. SeEtta


This is part of a series of pics I took during the 2nd flight of the BARE-THROATED TIGER-HERON this afternoon. Each of these pics was taken sequentially (and ordered on this post in the order taken) in less than a minute per the time stamp from my camera (I was shooting as fast as I could). Though the bottom pics appear larger they were actually a little more distant and the illusion is due to my cropping the pics as quick as I could while trying to make sure they accurately reflect the bird.
As the pics show, I did not get on the bird until it was a little ways past where I stood. As the bird flies further away it is turning slightly to the left. It flew in a partial arc as it flew around the group of birders on the levee. More pics in the series in the next post. SeEtta
The bird was flying maybe 20-25 feet above the levy then


This afternoon a group of us were given a great Christmas gift--killer views of the BARE-THROATED TIGER-HERON flying not just one time in the daylight but TWICE within a few minutes. This is the a pic of the bird as it flew near us and into the south side of the canal that runs just south of the Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park where a pond is located that is surrounded by heavy vegetation. The yellow colored throat can be seen in this pic. More pics to come. SeEtta

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Saw the Bare-throated Tiger-Heron

Tonight on my third try to see the probable first U.S. record Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, it appeared. Unfortunately it was almost dark and the photo I took did not come out. As it was getting dark, several of the birders who had been watching for it for hours were leaving and did not see it.

I was more fortunate as I was looking in the direction that it flew from and so spotted it just as it came into sight and flew over the canal near the Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park World Birding Center buildings. Though I have seen this species before, I don't recall having seen one in flight but I knew immediately that this was likely the tiger-heron as it looked like a night-heron as it flew with methodical wing beats across the canal and into the thicket of trees with a pond on the other side. As I review Sibley's field guide, it looked quite a bit like a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron in flight--large, dark bird with it's head tucked back and it's legs outstretched behind it.

There were still close to 10 birders watching when the Bare-throated Tiger-Heron flew tonight and I believe most of them got to see it. Several birders said they saw it when it flew at around 4 pm and apparently several also saw it fly around 10 am this morning. This bird is apparently molting from juvenile to adult plumage. It was found on Dec 21 by Rick Nirschl and Rick Snider who got some great pics. SeEtta

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Nice distraction--White-tailed Kite

Today I spent some hours with many other birders watching for a super rarity--a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron that was found last night near Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park in Mission,TX. I didnt' see this vagrant bird from far below the border and only possible sightings by others today. Many of us were entertained by this White-tailed Kite that worked an area nearby. Other pleasant distractions were a Northern Harrier and an eastern Red-tailed Hawk.
The dark wrist spots visible in the top pic are field marks for this species as is the white tail. SeEtta

Sing,sing a song-White-eyedVireo

I was fortunate to catch this White-eyed Vireo in song today at the Santa Ana NWR. I was on my way down the 'hawk tower' so for a change I was higher than this vireo putting me and my camera in a position to look right into it's wide open beak. SeEtta

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bright Great Kiskadees

Fortunately the sun had come out by the time I photographed this Great Kiskadee at Santa Ana NWR today. It's bright yellow plumage shows so much better with sunshine.
As brightly colored as they are, these beauties can hide in plain view by sitting still. But when they call, their voices carry and they can be heard at some distance. SeEtta

"Interesting hawk" is a Gray Hawk

I received several emails this morning about the hawk in my prior post that I found at Santa Ana NWR--all said it was a Gray Hawk. One of those was Tim Brush who is well known and highly respected authority on birds in the Rio Grande Valley (and probably elsewhere). SeEtta

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Interesting hawk at Santa Ana

I found this hawk this morning east of the Pintail Lake trail. Unfortunately the tree was perched in a tree well over a hundred feet away (more like 150 feet). Due to that distance, the mostly cloudy sky and my handholding the camera, I had to use a high ISO setting and fast speed so the pics came out pretty dark and I was unable to lighten them any better than as shown without distorting them.
The hawk is blackish with a wide white band around the middle of the tail, a narrow white terminal tail band, it has a yellowish cere, wingtips are shorter than tail tip, and it appears to have long legs. These fit the description for a Common Black Hawk. Also it called and retrospectively it sounds like the call of a Common Black Hawk.
What I have some problem with is the white feathers that can be seen in the last two pics that appear to be in the area of the upper legs that are whitish which are not consistent with extensive description of Common Black Hawk in Raptors of Western North America by Wheeler. I have some experience with this species as a Common Black Hawk spent a month in my town (Canon City,CO) several years ago and visited on several other occasions--in all, I observed the species on at least 8-10 occasions and photographed it. I don't see these whitish feathers in my Colo photos (viewable on my old blog at SE Colo Birding).
Birds of North America online states, "irregular in Lower Rio Grande Valley (G. Lasley pers. comm.)." I searched Texbirds archives and found it has been some years since this species was reported in LRGV in winter.
The other possibility is a ray Hawk that is fairly dark so that it would appear blackish in my pics. This would resolve my issue of the white feathers near the legs of the bird I photographed since Gray Hawks have white undertail coverts. The descriptions indicate that the wingtips of Gray Hawks go halfway down the tail so I am unsure if they would cover the additional white tail bands. Hopefully I will get some assistance to resolve these identification issues. SeEtta

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Wintering Pine Warbler @SantaAnaNWR

Today was the Christmas Bird
Count at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge which is located on the border of Mexico. Though small by National Refuge size at about 2,000 acres, approximately 400 bird species have been seen there. Named for the pine trees that are their usual habitat, this bird was foraging in some mixed tree species.
This Pine Warbler flitted in mid canopy about 60-80 feet above the ground and I took these pics-habndheld- from a distance of about 50-75 feet. With reduced lighting in the trees, the pics came out fairly dark but not good enough to lighten them more. SeEtta

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Last but not least pics of N.Jacana

I really liked the views of the yellow bill that extends up towards it's crown. The chestnut colored feathers on it's back and coverts is most attractive. SeEtta

Flight pics of N. Jacana

It was cloudy when I photographed this jacana and I am afraid that this ate up the color of the actually quite attractive yellow flight feathers causing them to look whitish in my pics. (this is not a result of editing).
The bird flew several times as it moved around the shallow lake to forage in the vegetation.
I was quite impressed by the long length of it's toes which are shown well in both middle pics.

Rare N. Jacana In Texas

I am now down in Texas for some birding and for temperatures nicer than th 16 below, followed by 10 below, followed by 6 below zero we had in Canon City last week. I had been following reports of a Northern Jacana that has been regularly seen in Choke Canyon State Park since early November.
I didn't get to the park until early afternoon as it had been raining in San Antonio. A couple from Oklahoma found the bird on the far side of 75 Acre Lake. The husband was shooting pics with his 850 mm super telephoto lens and I was shooting with my combination (400 mm lens, 1.4 mm lens extender with an additional 1.6 multiplier since my camera is not full framed which gives me an effective lens a little over 850 mm).
We got lucky--the jacana, which had been foraging actively several hundred feet away, flew in so we could photograph it from as close as 70 or so feet away (which is a real big help, especially since my image stabilization and automatic focus do not work when I use my lens extender). More pics in next two posts. SeEtta

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Risks to polar bears from a warming climate

Watch this informative video featuring a scientist, who is has extensively studied polar bears in the field, discussing the risks that face polar bears as our climate continues to warm. Dr. Derocher's "field research focuses on polar bears in the Canadian Arctic and the polar bears of Hudson Bay. He has also worked with polar bears in Svalbard, Norway, through the Norwegian Polar Institute. Over the course of 20 years of studying polar bears, Dr. Derocher’s research has focused on the limiting and regulating factors of polar bear populations including habitat use, harvest effects, and predator-prey relationships." SeEtta

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More Red-naped pics

The top pic shows off the head pattern found on male Red-naped Sapsuckers--this one has a good patch of red on it's nape, red crown showing a little, bright red throat (distinctive of males), black and white facial stripes, frame around throat incomplete.
In included the middle pic as I rarely get such a good shot of the crown which is quite red on this bird.
And though the bottom pic shows off the red feathers on the bird's nape, I included it because it shows off the back pattern with 2 well-defined rows of white feathers that are also field marks for distinguishing Red-naped from Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. SeEtta

And the Abbey's Red-naped Sapsucker

Now that I have posted pics of male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at Centennial Park as well as the female Williamson's and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at the Abbey, these are pics of the last sapsucker I found--a male Red-naped sharing the pine trees that are favored by all of these sapsucker species when they winter in Canon City. I really like pics in which I catch a glimpse of a bird's tongue like in the top pic here.
I noted in the last post on the female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that they have fully framed throats while Red-naped Sapsucker's do not. This bird has a better developed frame than most Red-naped that I have seen, but the top 3 pics show that the frame is incomplete where the section bordering the face meets the section bordering the breast. The second pic also shows well the bright red throat feathers on this male.
I uploaded the bottom pic to show off the upper tail coverts and tail feathers that are not often shown in pics of sapsuckers. More pics in the next post. SeEtta

Monday, December 14, 2009

Canon City's female YB Sapsucker

This is the female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker I found at the Abbey in Canon City, CO last week. I found her the same day I found a male Red-naped Sapsucker also at the Abbey. Though I didn't see the female Williamson's Sapsucker that day, it has been seen by others since these newcomers have arrived.
Young male Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers can have throats that are mostly white but with a small amount of red so it is important to view the throat area fully as I did with these sapsucker.
These pics show from various angles the completely framed throats that is distinctive of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. SeEtta

Octopus using coconut shells

This is too cool--this species of octopus has learned to use coconut shells discarded into the water by people--and they take them when they move about. SeEtta

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hawk that landed in pond continued

Finally it shook itself to get some of the water off and it kind of hopped a little further onto the bank from the ice. The 3rd pic shows the hawk as it just perched on the bank for a few more minutes.
Finally the hawk hopped, with an assist from flapping wings, into the shrubs where I suppose it felt safer. Why this hawk landed in the pond is unknown. Was it chasing some prey that was able to maneuver up from the water? Was it going after, in some desperate attempt to eat, a small duck in the water? Was there some visual problem (with its eyes, glare from the water) that caused it to undershoot a landing on the ice?

I wasn't the only vertebrate interested in what was happening with this hawk as several small ducks swam directly over to it right after it hit the water. They swam away then returned near it when it got up on the ice--like they were also trying to figure out this unusual event.

If there was some way I could get to it I would have as I knew it's chances for survival were very low. Unfortunately the temps went down close to zero F overnight--I think it is unlikely a hawk with wet feathers could survive. So sad. SeEtta

Tragic water landing by hawk

When I stopped to look to see if either of Trumpeter Swans was still around, I caught a glimpse (looking with my binoculars through my windshield as it was around 10 degrees F) of what looked like a hawk flying down into the pond. I jumped out of my car and put my binoculars on something in the water but couldn't quite tell what it was. Since I didn't have my spotting scope with me (I think this is the only time in the past year I left it at home, wouldn't you know), I took a few pics with my digital camera with long lens. What I saw was in the top pic--a hawk floating in the water!! Wow, it just floated like that for several minutes (maybe stunned since it seemed to go down fast?).
Then it made a heroic effort and got itself up on the nearby ice as shown in the 2nd pic. It just perched there for a few more minutes,with underparts soaked from the freezing cold water. The pics show snow on the bank and on the shrubs behind the hawk. At this point it was clear that this is an immature Red-tailed Hawk. To be continued. SeEtta