Back in 1997 we saw lots of Roadrunners when we went to Falcon State Park. We had already seen the odd one before we got to Falcon but it was there that they were more conspicuous, even tame. My photos from the time are pretty awful I must admit. I was using a Kowa scope adaptor for my Ricoh SLR and slide film, I got one decent shot for every twenty frames or something like that, and so digital images of Roadrunners was something I was hoping to get.
After leaving Inca Dove Cottage we went to Mission County Park because there had been up to five Hook-billed Kites showing in recent weeks, although we were told that they had become harder to see because birders and photographers had been kicking them all over the place. While we had seen one at Salineño back in 97, and were familiar with the species from trips to Panama where they are fairly regular, we still wanted to see the Mission birds, especially the black morph. So the plan was to be on the levy bank to view the roost area as early as was reasonable, before heading west to Zapata.
While at Mission we bumped into a local birder who was going for one of his regular site visits and he thought we might struggle now that the kites were less accommodating. As we walked the levy bank a Roadrunner hopped up and scooted over the track in front of us and away, trip tick. The birder and another group of three went off further along the bank but we decided to stay and scan from our vantage point to save a few hundred yards of extra shoe-leather before heading back to the car. While scanning for the kites another Roadrunner edged up out of the vegetation then posed nicely for us in the grass and on the track. It knew we were there and frequently went into alert mode although it is possible that there were predators such as hawks, cats and even Coyotes around too.
After a few minutes the Roadrunner started to go off, giving us what would later become the familiar view of the Falcon birds. We reached our cut-off point, time-wise and started to move off. Just as we were leaving the Roadrunner came back over the track, paused for more glory and then legged it back into cover.
At Falcon we did see more Roadrunners but they were always running away. We didn’t see much else there at all but at least we got out of the car and walked a trail. We’d been to Chapeño after leaving Salineño and found it an odd place. We were greeted at the gate by some hairy apparition who took our dollars and, when asked where to go he said “anywhere you like”, not very helpful and we didn’t stay long meaning no last shot at Red-billed Pigeon, surely a valid reason to return to the valley again if not Chapeño.
Salineño was quite different and we had a good couple of hours there down by the river, along the trails and at the feeders. The hoped for kingfishers didn’t appear but there were quite a few birds along the river including a showy Gray Hawk and lots of Ospreys. At the feeders we saw the trip first Audubon’s Orioles along with four or more Altamira and a couple of Hooded.
It was hard to get a shot of the Audubon’s Orioles without them sitting on a log and stuffing their faces with peanut butter!
After leaving Salineño we took the dump road looking for Scaled Quail but no luck. We did get nice views of Pyrrhuloxia and an argumentative pair of Harris’s Hawks, here are the photos of both, heat haze was an issue as was range. It would have been great to bird the road at dawn but now, as the day was starting to heat up, it was pretty quiet and we still had a way to go.
We got to Zapata late in the afternoon, dumped the suitcase and then gunned it to Lake Casa Blanca in Laredo to try for the Slaty-backed Gull. If you read the earlier posts you’ll know that we dipped the gull but we did get a Zone-tailed Hawk on the way. We chose to stay in Zapata to try for the White-collared Seedeaters for the ABA list, but reference to eBird that evening showed birds only being reported from Laredo and so we didn’t bird Zapata at all, just packed the case ready to launch ourselves west once again before first light.
We had just 1.5 days of birding left in Texas and we had to drive a fair bit to get to Houston the next day, driving that would eat into the available birding time. Next time we visit (see, I’m already making plans), we will try to fly into the valley directly I think. It was a noisy night, what with the room being right on the highway but they didn’t have anything else available so that was that. At least the meal at Pizza Hut was OK and something of a surprise – looking around it seemed to be the peak of culinary delight in Zapata but like I said, it was OK.