Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Blucher Park: Chucked Out and Great Kisses

Blucher Park...a small, fairly ubiquitous park in the midst of Corpus Christi, one that doesn't immediately emanate the vibe of 'fantastic birding spot'. Sure, it's got some thick vegetation. The Chimney Swifts and Cardinals make their presence known. But what sets it apart from other similar constructs? Well, maybe all Corpus parks have excellent birds. Certainly catching Blucher Park earlier in the season yields some phenomenal results, like perched and crushable Chuck-wills-widows. 

After dropping off cousin Mike early in the morning, Blucher Park was a quick stop before continuing on to Anahuac and the Bolivar Peninsula. It was late in the season, but maybe, just maybe, a Chuck-wills-widow--at this point a heard-only bird--would still be around. 
I'll be mercifully blunt, instead of dragging you through hours of scrupulous searching high and low like that which I had to endure: no, there were not. The park was small enough that I can confidently say I searched the whole place, also enduring a latch-on (somebody who just follows you around because, hey, they're not busy, and you clearly are just watching birds so you don't have anything else going on either, let's be buddies but I won't even offer you a smoke) without any nightjars. However, and perhaps unusually for Butler's Birds and my general temperament, this is not an anecdote leading to a large excoriation of one thing or another. Blucher Park did indeed cough up a life bird, and even more than that, it gave personally unprecedented, crushing views of one of the best North American birds, the Great Kiskadee.

There were three of these large, loud, and thoroughly handsome, dominating birds at the park. The two parents were constantly harassed and solicited by their amply-sized chick. It was not yet a Great Kiskadee, but was a Pretty Good Kiskadee.

They foraged/patrolled the little creek bisecting Blucher Park, and unlike at the larger nature preserves where I had previously been chasing these birds, they were pretty accustomed to people. In fact, one of the birds perched on the ledge of the elevated concrete bridge over the creek not more than ten feet away, and just...abided. This bird did not care, perhaps because of its eminent beautifulness. 

*Note the faint yellow on the crown

The overwhelming good it did heart and soul to have such confiding time with these magnificent specimens cannot be articulated, not now any better than it was then. Faces melted and hearts palpitated. The exclamations and expletives even dried up, a rare day indeed.
But luckily another articulation took its place, the simultaneously musical and interrupted vocalization of a Vireo, one with a suspiciously yellow belly and appropriately so, for its courage, if not its braggadocio, could be called into question.

There are several species of Vireo, Yellow-Green included, that remind me of someone who's trying to sing a song but does not know the lyrics very well, or an inexperienced kid practicing an instrument. There are frequent, awkward pauses before subsequent notes or lyrics are made, and all of the notes are made a bit more boldly or loudly than a more nuanced, experience playing would advise.
This is not meant as an admonition of the Vireo chorus of course; I appreciate that it makes their songs easier to pick out from the canopies, where this relatively rare bird spent its time. It's just 'inneresting.

The YGVI doesn't have quite the stage presence of a daylight Chuck-wills-widow, but statistically speaking it's the rarer bird and a better find. Apparently this bird had been hanging out at Blucher Park for at least a week, but being removed from the internet for a while I was not plugged into this fact, and thus even got the feel good boost, for a couple of days, of having found my own little rarity. That being said, the best bird of the day was still the Great Kiskadee, big, bold, raw, and unapologetic. 
See this bird before you die. In fact, if this bird is your cause of death, and you get a good look at it in the process, that'd be the perfect way to go. 
* Nate McGowan rocked it in such a way and posted at almost the same time. The universe is telling us something.

I'll be away, again, from the civilized world for a couple of days, though this time I shall not flee civilization to such an extent that I'll go to Texas (lol no jkjkjkjk totes rotfl), and hopefully there'll be some AZ birds getting back into the mix. But if you're getting tired of the Texas posts, well, that's just too damn bad, because there's more coming!
In the mean time, merry birding to all, and to all a good birding!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Recipe for Good Birding

There are many different recipes floating around the interweb these days. Lots of them relate to gluten free muffins and bacon-infused such and such.
Of course, recipes do not only pertain to the culinary arts. Disaster gets its own recipes, and there are several different recipes all purported to create 'fun' (often booze and/or cosmic bowling is a primary ingredient). Following the same recipe won't even yield identical results, and maybe sometimes it seems unimaginative, but time and resources are precious; as birders and conservationists we want to make the most of them. There are common trends and expectations with a recipe, in our ordered universe, and this is no exception with the recipe for good birding. Obviously, I am no master birding chef, so this recipe may still need some work. Please contribute any extra ingredients you think essential for a successful day/outing of birding.

1 binoculars, camera and spotting scope to taste
2 cans of 'whoop ass', opened up when first hitting a trail and hearing bird calls
1 pint elbow grease, especially important later in the day in hotter climes
1 tbsp. Indefatigable optimism--the next great bird is hiding just around the corner
1 whole uniform--combine comfort with pragmatics, avoid blaring colors, try to dress 30 years older      than one actually is.
2 bags of cherries. If long driving is involved, this is the best road trip snack to keep one going at the wheel; it fights drowsiness and can be eaten continually without creating a feeling of bloating of gritty teeth and dehydration (compare with Cheez-its)
1 all David Bowie mix tape, if driving 80+ minutes.
1 bag beef jerky
3 lbs. trail mix, with M&Ms an essential subcomponent.

Directions: Mix together in a good habitat for a few hours before letting sit and adding beer, bourbon, Covington's Vodka, or Hennessy Gin afterwards (maybe during).
**Good habitat is essential. For best results, begin mixing just after sun-up, but recipe can provide optimal birding relative to time of day in all conditions.

As a case in point, this recipe was applied during heavy rain and fog around the Bolivar Flats and on the Galveston Ferry in east Texas. The conditions were very poor but the habitats were excellent. Elbows were greased up, various cans were opened, cherries were munched, and I still picked up two lifers in very poor and mosquito-infested conditions.
Always great-to-see birds included Roseate Spoonbills; nifty Lifer came in the form of Seaside Sparrow (not pictured) and nifty almost-lifer came in the form of Clapper/King/'Cling' Rail, because nothing is sacred anymore. Cling Rails...thanks Obama!

At the recommendation of great birder and friend Nate McGowan (another strong but optional piece of the recipe--having informed birder buddies or and/or their info) Butler's Birds utilized the drive-in Galveston ferry to scan for seabirds. Expectedly, Laughing Gulls and Brown Pelicans accounted for everything seen around the harbors.

Things got busier in the middle of the bay, where a rather boringly named fishing troller was brewing its own little pelagic birding trip--though they need a better recipe for bigger results. The same birds as were around the Bolivar harbor followed the boat, but of much greater interest were the eminently impressive and spectral seabirds flying higher in the sky.

Just biding their time and waiting to tyrannize the troll boat scrappers, ABA lifer Magnificent Frigatebirds soared effortlessly, and somewhat spookily, in the gloomy skies.

Driving west from Galveston, I stopped by Brazos Bend SP in the middle of the days, ostensibly the worst time for birding. Again I put the recipe to good use, and again the birding was surprisingly (or rather, not really) excellent. That recounting is for another time. There's yet more Texas left in these veins!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Getting the Groove On: Early Morning Anis and a Sanctuary in the Rain

The preceding day at Estero Llano Grande was one of the best birding days on this side of 2000; truly it would be a tough act to follow. However, we still had some LRGV residents to pursue and others that we had not yet satisfactorily seen. With Common Pauraque off the list, Groove-billed Ani was the next to take it's place as the LRGV's Most Wanted, and one of the best places to find this bird was at the Resaca de la Palma preserve east of Brownsville. 
We arrived very early, before the park even opened, actually, and heard the birds calling in their strange way almost immediately, and very near one of the trail heads. Since we were hoping not to spend much time at Resaca, which is otherwise a neat place but without much we wouldn't see elsewhere, this was stupendous luck. However, it was still early and overcast, so even though this Ani wasn't exceedingly energetic, it was still difficult to photograph in any decent sort of way at 1/35fps.

Luckily Anis are pretty shabby (said affectionately, they're a favorite of Butler's Birds) and don't themselves mind a sloppy portrait. These birds have a bit of the tropical mixed with a bit of the prehistoric in them. While they do stray into Arizona every couple of years, it was nice to have the bird close and audible in its preferred habitat. 

In fact, after a few minutes it was joined by another, and here's where things get weird. For you see, dear reader, there can form a congress of Loons, a bevy of Quail, a conspiracy of Crows, a flock of Seagulls, and a Raft of Ducks, etc. When two or more Anis get together, it is called a cooch
This term was apparently developed by the infamous British ornithologist and explorer Sir Henry Caligula, who was later expelled, in disgrace, from the Royal Naturailist Society for refusing to abide by the small placards in the museum reading "Don't touch the displays" and who is also and independently responsible for the disclaimer that now appears on curling irons: "For external use only."  
Another theory is that the term cooch was applied by an unambitious young birder in the early 1900s, whose two favorite things in life were couches (for sitting) and coozies (for beverage temperature regulation), and upon discovering a group of Anis, he simply defaulted to the greatest possible thing he could think of (a couch that kept beverages cold).
There is a third, counter-theory that this term also was developed because Anis like to tickle each other (coochy, coochy, coo), but this is generally dismissed by natural historians as being idiotic. 
So thank you anyway, trashy TX strip-club billboards, but we got all the cooch we needed by 7am!
(Yes, this joke needed to be made. No, it's not in poor taste; Anis give one a pass).
I shudder to think what a group of Dickcissels is called.

Resaca de la Palma was also echoing with Cuckoo calls and its trees as well as its utility wires were adorned with Oriole nests, yet we saw none of these birds. We quickly moved on to the Sabal Palm Sanctuary on the same side of Brownsville, TX, and just missed a big, several-dozen strong movement of immigrants coming through the preserve (as we were exasperatingly informed by the attendant). 
Sabal Palms proved to be another excellent birding spot, perhaps not as varied in habitat as Estero, but hosting a couple of other attractions, including large groves of the native Sabal palms. 

At this point in the day, 7:30am or so, we were already enduring microbursts, so we didn't want to go anywhere we'd be stuck in the open with optic gear and drenched. Sabal Palms has some pagodas along its tropical paths, and also a feeder station, where I was finally able to get photographs of Long-billed Thrasher, which up to this point I'd seen often but always high and obscured while singing. 

Here we also put White-tipped Dove to rest, another south Texas bird heard often and seen fleetingly in the thick woods, finally brought into the open. Seeing these weird Doves scurrying along skinny little trails and then magically disappearing into the dense foliage at nearly every other site we visited thus far and created a bit of mystique about them, but given the right incentive, or just a familiar place and sense of security, they'll behave much like any other Dove (although we never did get Red-billed Pigeon!). Crush you very much WTDO. 

I've mentioned before my detestation for feeder shots as being the lowest common denominator of bird photography. It's not the idea of baiting the birds that I find troubling. After all, putting out food in a designated, habitat-controlled preserve is only another degree of human involvement anyway. It's just the actual aesthetic offense caused by plastic hummingbird feeders (and don't get me wrong, I've taken many, many such photos--sometimes that's all you get) or hanging boxes. But feeder stations work much like blinds, providing much closer view and study of birds than often otherwise possible, at least in a limited amount of time, and we didn't have blinds, just a bit of patience for the birds to move somewhere without too much 'hand of man' in the shot. 
It would otherwise be, perhaps, many a year before I could get dandy images of Golden-fronted Woodpecker, a very damn dandy bird. 

The Sabal Palms Sanctuary is also good for another LRGV resident that has little to do with the palms themselves and likely won't turn up at a feeder station. The water features at this preserve used to connect via estuaries with the Rio Grande, but the levels dropped enough that they broke up and were isolated into ponds, even lakes, if one is generous enough. The smaller Grebes like murky ponds with cover, Pied-billed and also, most best superlative of all, Least Grebes. I do not know what the term is for multiple Grebes (let alone Least). Let's just call this a Neatness of Grebes. The main pond at Sabal Palms had a nesting Neatness of Grebes. 

These tiny tachybaptus Grebes were foraging very actively, even during the intermittent downpours, and gave much better looks than I've ever had at Pena Blanca Lake in southeast AZ, were they also have small population. When alarmed, these birds will dive and hide with only their beaks protruding from the water's surface, combining techniques of alligators and snorkelers. But they had no such need at Sabal Palms, where they were a/the top predator.

Along with Red-billed Pigeon, Fulvous Whistling Duck was one of the larger misses from the overall Texas adventure. But the Fulvous absenteeism was covered, to an extent, by their handsome Black-bellied cousins. When these fellows are flying overhead, they put the Seven Dwarves to shame.

A familial raft of BBWDs really upped the 'cuteness' scale, even after the cavorting Least Grebes. Nine ducklings and two handsome parents makes even the hardest of heart birders--a Birder Pharaoh, if you will--melt with feelings of warmness and fuzziness.

But the BBWD cutesy show got even more extreme with the microbursts. Here is Mrs. Belly playing parasol for all 9 of the chicks, while Mr. Belly stands stoically out of focus. The funny thing was Mr. Belly eventually ditched the log and flew off somewhere for the duration of the downpour. He returned afterwards (presumably, it could have been a different duck) and she snapped at him and scolded him away for a while. He was in the dog house.

We were camped out at the resaca (lake) blind for a little while, mostly because the continual cloudbursts discouraged trail time. When the rain finally subsided, some of the resaca's protruding dead trees made for nifty perches as the passerines sallied forth after the deluge.
Of course, having seen lifer Anis in the morning, another bird would show brazenly without solicitation. It would have been super crushable in better conditions, such a groovy good bird!

A flyover light morph Swainson's Hawk gave a brief hope of finding lifer White-tailed and what was first adjudicated to be a Tropical Kingbird (the conspicuously large beak) kept the tyrannid game going. In the comments below, none other than WBRS's #7 Seagull Steve defied convention, however, and returned that this is still a COKI, just a well-endowed specimen. 

Of course, the birds weren't the only critters to get out in the open while they could. We hit up the trails, weather permitting, and recorded Buntings and other passerines on the larger loops, also finding a cavity with six large, brown-spotted eggs. Near some smaller ponds with heavy mesquite cover, a Green Kingfisher, documented Bigfoot style.

Right across from the tree with the nest cavity, which for reasons of dumbness I neglected to photograph and later research, we also had a nesting Buff-bellied Hummingbird, who either had great confidence in her camouflage or had reached the point of parenthood already where she just didn't care anymore. Her nest was hanging over the trail and this photo was at maybe 150mm, very close.

We never were caught out in the rain too badly, although a misplaced baseball cap did require some sodden searching, but some birds missed the ark and ended up looking like celebrities pictured on National Enquirer, just terrible!

Green Jays were not a lifer but, for obvious reasons, were one of the most desired birds of the trip. They were always tough to photograph, as we didn't go anywhere that particularly lent itself to photographing them (I have memories from birding in the area 8 years ago, though I don't remember where at exactly--maybe Santa Anna--and there were near of dozen Jays around a feeder stations with an adjacent blind...what I wouldn't have given to remember that spot).
They're a pretty suspicious bird and not very accommodating, though no doubt enough time in the area will yield some solid shots of this gorgeous bird. 
It never was the perfect shot, but this fellow finally got himself in order after the rainstorm and looked pretty dapper. We didn't get to see the Green Jays doing anything cool and clever, like using sticks and other tools to catch insects (which they do), but when you look this good, you don't have to be clever. 

Probably the greatest value at Sabal Palms was that it supplied us with much improved looks at many species we had seen only briefly or unsatisfactorily. It was a great spot, for its purpose. Afterwards we headed farther east to South Padre Island, just in case anything cool was hanging around the bird center (there wasn't), before heading back north towards Corpus Christi.
Since we had some time to kill in the evening, we checked out North Padre Island spots, most of which were standard beach, but had some luck at Bird Island Basin. Along the way though, we had to make it through a very treacherous strip of beach highway. It was a single-lane road, hedged in with sand dunes and grasslands--you know the type if you've driven near the gulf coast, and there were no less than 3 traffic cops in a 5 miles stretch! Not only that, but there was this checkpoint on the road, apparently only constructed for traffic enforcement because there wasn't anyone collecting tolls for the State Park access. Ridiculous police state stuff, maybe people drag race here or something. 

Anyhow, the slow-paced incursion down this strip of beach was richly rewarded when one of our turn-offs brought us by some rare trees emerging from the grassy dunes--surely a couple of trees in miles of grassy dunes would be highly desirable real estate for any bigger birds in the area. 
We had dipped on White-tailed Hawk so far in the trip, but here was a nesting pair in the middle of nowhere, well-guarded by ornery traffic cops. This was a pretty clutch lifer as it was our last stop of the day, Mike was leaving early in the morning, and it was well north of where we expected to see these birds, though North Padre island (latitudinally equivalent with Corpus) is still within range. 

Scopes would have been most welcome but we still had pretty decent views and caught many distinguishing marks. This is another bird I'm sure one can see often and well if spending significant time in the area, but with only busy and brief time down south and no specific area to look for this bird, we felt pretty lucky to come away with the Last-Gasp Hawk, as it shall henceforth be known.
Many exclamations and high fives were shared.

Also, there were Meadowlarks.

Next up, a missed lifer and a better consolation back around Corpus Christi. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Show me the Money Birds: Hugh Ramsey and Estero Llano Grande

There were great birds in San Antonio, and great birds in Laredo and Corpus Christi as well. But these places and birds were all prelude to the next few intensive days of Tex Birding. Finally, with the Rio Grande just a site and a sniff away, we were in the tropics around Harlingen and Brownsville. This was what I had been missing for years, being totally immersed in birds I couldn't see elsewhere in north America, in new habitats, and even in newish shoes (though the old birder rags stayed the same). Nothing but Valeros and Whataburgers, and birding habitat, far as the eye can see Tip of the fin LRGV birding time. BOOM!

The morning was misty and often overcast--the really annoying kind of overcast where thin clouds don't keep out the heat, but do make settings and subjects brighter and hazy to behold, forcing a constant semi-squint. 
Hugh Ramsey Park, pretty near the our hotel, was the first stop. Long-billed Thrashers and Olive Sparrows were loudly foraging in the tropical mesquite willow stuff. White-tipped Doves cooed loudly from deep in the growth. Plain Chachalacas were also boisterous members of the morning traffic.

Also known as the Mexican Turkey Chicken, the Chain Plachalaca, and the Raucous Brown Pheasant, this bird was not a lifer, but one I missed very badly from my brief time in south Texas years before. It was one with which I was determined to return possessing souvenir photographs this time around.
Since I have, to date, not seen a single species of Grouse or Ptarmigan, and thus otherwise not known the joy of having a large bird close by in a tree and easily visible, I must cherish and hold the Chachalaca close to my man-bosom. It is my Tatalaca.

"...What the hell did you just call me!?"

Hugh Ramsey Park was excellently birdy. It has plenty of little paths and differing habitats painstakingly established--or at least funded--by one Audubon group or another, and some of the shady cul-de-sacs offered fantastic views of perched Buff-bellied Hummingbirds.

Although I still seek the similar-looking an equally impressive Berylline Hummingbird, this looker was a particularly satisfying find. In typical hummingbird fashion, after about 2.17 minutes of acclimation it entirely quit caring about our presence in its territory, and would sometimes land abidingly close while circulating through its various perches. Shade and clouds made for low shutter speeds, but I shan't complain because we avoided feeder shots, the lowest form of bird photography (in which, of course, I do still operate when there is no other option). 

Chachalacas and Buff-bellies are wonderful, and also easy, non-draining birds to ID. That's less so the case when one starts examining the yellow-bellied tyrannus birds that reside in the area. For a non-Texan birder lacking Texas-sized confidence and ability, the Couch's vs. Tropical challenge is a bit daunting. As with many empids, waiting for these birds to vocalize can cost one a considerable amount of time better spent with other birds (maybe I should always try playing tape of both species eh?).
This fellow was one in a group of three birds, two of which were immature. The beak doesn't seem big enough for Tropical here, so I'll posit Couch's for it.

This next tyrannid, which was actually photographed later in the afternoon at another site, seems to have more olive-green on the breast and a larger beak in proportion to its head, though no doubt this is a much different angle and perspective than with the preceding bird. I'm still going with Tropical on this one--a bird we also get in small numbers in Arizona, and one I should study more diligently.

Ramsey Park had its select offerings and was very conveniently near our lodging. We decided to return in the evening (when the Hummingbird above was actually photographed) and move on to a larger destination, one with an absolute advantage over Ramsey in terms of its birds, one for which I had the highest hopes and expectations for the trip, one that is now, surely, one of my all time favorite birding destinations thus far visited in North America, Estero Llano Grande.

It rocked my socks off, though luckily I brought an extra pair. Before we'd even gone through the visitor's center/official entrance, we had out first and only Altamira Oriole of the trip (during what would prove to be a very low-Oriole couple of weeks overall) and a lifer Clay-colored Thrush. There were also absurdly crushable Olive Sparrows, a bird I was intently seeking as a part of the unnecessary and unsolicited Butler's Birds quest to find, photograph, and judge all North American Sparrows.

I think my understanding of the presence of the CCTR was a bit dated, as I thought this would be a rare and difficult bird to find. This individual was one of two found during the whole trip, but apparently they're more reliable, especially in shady areas near feeder stations or clearings with other easy food sources. At any rate, this was a lifer that surprised me, one of those birds I wasn't particularly expecting to see, relative to other potential lifers at Estero I was prepared, at least theoretically and with extra undies, to behold.

Not only did this normally shy skulker show well, it even vocalized a bit. This is an interesting bird, though it's tough to articulate why. It's clearly related to Robins and other Thrushes, and is a rather dull brown overall. And yet, maybe just because I'm prejudiced in knowing this bird's range and seeing it specific habitat, but there's something very obviously tropical-seeming about it.

Around the Clay-colored Thrush there were, of course, more obliging Olive Sparrows. Perhaps knowing I was a very stern judger of Sparrows (I am, The Law), they did their best to impress and importune their way towards ingratiating my Dred Judgment. I won't say it didn't work.

Eventually we did make it through the official entrance. The attendants there provided some information on the resident Common Pauraque, the main Estero attraction, that can be found and photographed very well earlier in the season at the Alligator Lake bench area. Unfortunately, they informed me that no one had found any birds for the last couple of weeks, including during the morning Audubon walks led by docents who knew all of their usual haunts. Apparently, once the birds have fledged their young (or tried), they all disperse into the thicker and inaccessible vegetation.
This news was tremendously disappointing, as COPA was one of the most anticipated birds of my trip. With heavy heart and hearty head we set out onto the Estero trails, splitting up pretty soon to see what all was still around. The ponds were devoid of smaller shorebirds, but still held the larger residents.

I spent about an hour scrupulously searching every pile of leaf litter, every bump on a branch, every shadow and every other conceivable Pauraque-type thing in the Alligator Lake area, turning up only a White-eyed Vireo for my troubles. In the mean time, Mike spent most of his time birding in the much shadier and far birdier 'tropical area' while I stubbornly languished in the nightjar-less plot.

I later rejoined Mike where we had some concentrated and excellent birding. For future reference, the 'tropical zone' at Estero, which actually lies outside the visitor center controlled area, was by far the best birding. We had the earlier Olive Sparrows and CC Thrush there, as well as Kiskadees, Green Jays, Northern Beardless Tyrannulets, Bronzed Cowbirds, and plenty of other goodies, with the pièce de résistance being a vocalizing but distant (and shaded) Tropical Parula.

But the shady joys of the 'tropical zone' were, until later in the day, quite apart from me. I was in the baking sun, without a Pauraque and really much else to show for my time and trouble. A pair of Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, both stuffed full with bugs, were a nice but insufficient consolation on the way back from Alligator Lake. It was at this point I also ran into the bird walk group completing their morning rounds. The conspicuously dressed guide rather indignantly mentioned that, of course, they hadn't seen any Pauraques this time of year and day, like maybe I was implying this was a failure on his part and embarrassing him in front of the 60 year old bird ladies he was trying to impress. 

Whatever. Failure is, in fact, an option at Butler's Birds. In fact sometimes it happens without even being chosen, obnoxiously enough. But not this time, or not so easily.
The Camino de Aves trail in the northeast portion of the park terminates at Kiskadee Lake, and I figured maybe here I'd get a shot at some tropical Kingfishers (not at all, as it turns out). Along the way the path winds through cactus and mesquite bosque on one side, and willow scrub oak type stuff on the other, with thicker cover and more leaf litter. I was still looking in the leaf litter and low branches for Pauraque bobs, but Long-billed Thashers and Common Ground Doves in the more deserty stuff kept distracting me. After one such distraction, attempting to photograph a Roadrunner--which isn't even a bird I should be spending time on in Texas--I audibly said to myself (yes, I talk to myself a lot both in general and while birding, I don't have to justify anything, leave me alone!), "Ok Self, stay focussed on the other side here or there'll be no chance at all of finding this bird. Get it together man."
Right as I made the utterance--and for once, no hyperbole is being used here--I looked back over to the thicker side of the trail and there, just beyond the liminal grass, sat the gorgeously patterned Pauraque.

It almost knocked me on my backside. In fact, only the nearby presence of cactus and a quarter century of learned experience about what cactus does helped steady the knees. After so much expectation, and with so much hope having drained away, by luck or judgment, there sat the not so Common Pauraque, and it was stunning, totally stunning.
I'll admit to a very, very slight disappointment that the heavy grass and overhanging branches prevented a full, close crush of this bird, but I got to examine it from every angle, admiring its many chevrons and herringbone patterns, its smears of buffy and peanut butter, its massive nictal bristles and eyes next to to tiny little peaked beak.

I quietly back away and found a nearby little red flag that someone was using to mark a sprinkler head or bubbler line. Now it was marking the Pauraque spot. I went back to find Mike, and after we enjoyed the afore mentioned bounty of the tropical zone, we returned to find the COPA, as expected, in its same spot but turned with and away from sun.

Estero Grande turned out to be a tremendous spot. It provided several lifers and many fantastic views of other birds, including fantastic photo ops. It must be truly incredible in May, when migrant Warblers and shorebirds are also in the park. Even though I'd have much less to gain by way of new birds upon a return, the sheer birdiness of this place is a very strong temptation to return some time in May. 

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