I went back to Laguna Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge at dawn on the second day of my March 2016 spring break trip to Texas and easily found the Crimson-collared Grosbeak. It was exactly where it had been for the past three months—in a patch of Potato Trees between the visitor center and the office. It was vocal and active, giving a high pitched call as it ate fruits on the Potato Trees, but it wouldn’t come out for a really nice photo. I managed many clear images of it from the shoulders up, which gave all diagnostic features. It was still feeding and calling when I walked away from it 20 mintues later.
On my second visit to Laguna Atascoso NWR, when it wasn't 95F, Crimson-collared Grosbeak was easy to find in the Potaot Trees near the headquarter building.
I then spent an hour and a half enjoying the desert environments of the refuge and looking at birds like Greater Roadrunner, Creasted Caracara, Bewick’s Wren, which were in full song, and Verdin. I made it back to Frontera Audubon around 11am and heard that the Blue Bunting was coming regularly to a water drip at the back of the refuge. I sat down at the drip and within about 7 minutes of starting my watch the bunting flew in for a drink. I didn’t have a good angle for a photo—there were too many branches in the way, and just as the bird was moving into a good position for me, someone walked up and it flew away. I managed one blurry photo. But, I got a positive ID on the bird and it was a life bird. I sat for another hour and fifteen minutes with no returns by the bunting, so I headed over to Santa Ana Refuge.
A Crested Caracara on the road into Laguna Atascoso NWR
I believe that Santa Ana is the largest tract of protected habitat in the lower Rio Grande Valley. Away from a riparian corridor along the river, it has dry woodland and half a dozen resacas, which are old river channels of the Rio Grande that now form wetlands. The largest of these resacas was Pintail Lake #3, which has hosted a Northern Jacana since January. Northern Jacanas are large-footed shorebirds that typically walk on the top of floating vegetation in wetlands. They are found from Panama to central Mexico and only rarely show up in the U.S. I had seen one in Arizona in 1985.
Santa Ana was pretty crowded on this Sunday afternoon, and in my effort to avoid walking along with the several families that left the visitor center at the same time I did, I got on the wrong trail and it took me a while to get to Pintail Lake #3. When I did arrive, I ran into a birder walking away from the wetland and he had just seen the jacana, so I knew it was right there. He warned me “it is not that close and it keeps going out of sight behind the cattails”. So when I couldn’t locate it right away I wasn’t concerned. An hour and a half later, having still not found the bird I was getting concerned. The problem was that I was carrying my big camera setup—500 mm lens on a big tripod, which meant that I couldn’t bring my scope. Without a scope, the birds on the far shore were specks that were had to identify. I started seeing birds walking at the edges of cattails but every time I photographed one and blew up the photograph, it turned out to be a Sora or Virginia Rail. Finally, just as I was really getting frustrated, the dark shorebird that I was watching through binoculars lifted its wings and flashed bright yellow—no shorebird but a jacana has yellow wings. Luckily the bird was moving toward me and I was able to get several identifiable if not that satisfying photos.
It was great to get a photo of a Northern Jacana at Santa Ana NWR but I wish it had been a bit closer for a better photo.
My time at the resaca was far from a waste. It was a bird place and I was able to see and photograph, among many other species, Ringed Kingfisher, “Mexican” Duck (the southwestern subspecies of mallard in which males do not acquire green heads or rusty breasts), Fulvous Whistling-Duck, and an unexpected Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. It was about 2 hours to sunset when I left the Northern Jacana and I decided to try to photograph the local subspecies of Eastern Screech-Owl known as McCall’s Screech-Owl.