Monthly Archives: November 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

A few years back around Thanksgiving I did a series of blog posts with some fun facts about that noble bird, the Wild Turkey. And as families gather together to break bread and give thanks I thought besides just filling ourselves with wonderful food, I’d try to fill our birding brains with some info about this great Upland Game Bird.

Only found in North America, the Wild Turkey has 6 distinct sub-species that I’d like to share.

There are subtle differences in the coloration, habitat, and behavior of the different subspecies of wild turkeys. The six subspecies are:

Eastern wild turkey

Eastern wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) (Viellot, 1817)

This was the turkey species Europeans first encountered in the wild: by the Puritans, the founders of Jamestown, and by the Acadians. Its range is one of the largest of all subspecies, covering the entire eastern half of the United States from Maine in the north to northern Florida and extending as far west as Michigan, Illinois, and into Missouri. In Canada, its range extends into Southeastern Manitoba, Ontario, Southwestern Quebec (including Pontiac, Quebec and the lower half of the Western Quebec Seismic Zone), and the Maritime Provinces. They number from 5.1 to 5.3 million birds. They were first named ‘forest turkey’ in 1817, and can grow up to 4 ft (1.2 m) tall. The upper tail coverts are tipped with chestnut brown. Males can reach 30 lb (14 kg) in weight. The eastern wild turkey is heavily hunted in the Eastern USA and is the most hunted wild turkey subspecies.

Osceola wild turkey or Florida wild turkey (M. g. osceola) (Scott, 1890)

Most common in the Florida peninsula, they number from 80,000 to 100,000 birds. This bird is named for the famous Seminole leader Osceola, and was first described in 1890. It is smaller and darker than the eastern wild turkey. The wing feathers are very dark with smaller amounts of the white barring seen on other subspecies. Their overall body feathers are an iridescent green-purple color. They are often found in scrub patches of palmetto and occasionally near swamps, where amphibian prey is abundant.

Rio Grande wild turkey (M. g. intermedia) (Sennett, 1879)

The Rio Grande wild turkey ranges through Texas to Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon, Utah, and was introduced to central and western California, as well as parts of a few northeastern states. It was also introduced to Hawaiʻi in the late 1950s. Population estimates for this subspecies range from 1,022,700 to 1,025,700.[53] This subspecies, native to the central plain states, was first described in 1879, and has relatively long legs, better adapted to a prairie habitat. Its body feathers often have a green-coppery sheen. The tips of the tail and lower back feathers are a buff-to-very light tan color. Its habitats are brush areas next to streams, rivers or mesquite, pine and scrub oak forests. The Rio Grande turkey is gregarious.

Merriam’s wild turkey (M. g. merriami) (Nelson, 1900)

The Merriam’s wild turkey ranges through the Rocky Mountains and the neighboring prairies of Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota, as well as much of the high mesa country of New Mexico, Arizona, southern Utah and The Navajo Nation, with number from 334,460 to 344,460 birds.[citation needed] The subspecies has also been introduced into Oregon. The initial releases of Merriam’s turkeys in 1961 resulted in establishing a remnant population of Merriam’s turkeys along the east-slope of Mt. Hood and natural immigration of turkeys from Idaho has established Merriam’s flocks along the eastern border of Oregon.[54] Merriam’s wild turkeys live in ponderosa pine and mountainous regions. The subspecies was named in 1900 in honor of Clinton Hart Merriam, the first chief of the U.S. Biological Survey. The tail and lower back feathers have white tips and purple and bronze reflections.

Gould’s wild turkey (M. g. mexicana) (Gould, 1856)

Gould’s wild turkey

Native from the central valleys to the northern mountains of Mexico and the southernmost parts of Arizona and New Mexico. Gould’s wild turkeys are heavily protected and regulated. The subspecies was first described in 1856. They exist in small numbers in the U.S. but are abundant in northwestern portions of Mexico. A small population has been established in southern Arizona. Gould’s are the largest of the five subspecies. They have longer legs, larger feet, and longer tail feathers. The main colors of the body feathers are copper and greenish-gold. This subspecies is heavily protected owing to its skittish nature and threatened status.

South Mexican wild turkey (M. g. gallopavo) (Linnaeus, 1758)

The south Mexican wild turkey is considered the nominate subspecies, and the only one that is not found in the United States or Canada. In central Mexico, archaeological M. gallopavo bones have been identified at sites dating to 800–100 BC [10], [11]. It is unclear whether these early specimens represent wild or domestic individuals, but domestic turkeys were likely established in central Mexico by the first half of the Classic Period (c. AD 200–1000). Late Preclassic (300 BC–AD 100) turkey remains identified at the archaeological site of El Mirador (Petén, Guatemala) represent the earliest evidence of the export of the Mexican turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) to the ancient Maya world. The Mexican subspecies, M. g. gallopavo, was domesticated, either in Mexico or by Preclassic peoples in Mesoamerica, giving rise to the domestic turkey.[55] The Spaniards brought this tamed subspecies back to Europe with them in the mid-16th century; from Spain it spread to France and later Britain as a farmyard animal, usually becoming the centerpiece of a feast for the well-to-do. By 1620 it was common enough so that Pilgrim settlers of Massachusetts could bring turkeys with them from England, unaware that it had a larger close relative already occupying the forests of Massachusetts. It is one of the smallest subspecies and is best known in Spanish from its Aztec-derived name, guajolote. This wild turkey subspecies is thought to be critically endangered, as of 2010.

All this information was copied from the internet.

So my question to all my loyal readers, how many different sub-species have you seen? For myself, and just recently been birding in Texas, that would be 2 for me.

In closing I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite hymns that always seems to pop into my head this time of year.

Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival 2015

Well the 2015 version of the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival (RGVBF) is over and from the perspective of this first timer it was a huge success. The whole festival was well organized, and despite a few hiccups, (which is to be expected) I would fly back in a minute to try out some other field trips. The volunteers and field trip leaders were top notch and were so helpful and eager to answer any question you might have. But the main attraction was the birds. This is sensory overload on a birding level I’ve not experienced since the first time I went to Magee Marsh during Spring migration years ago.

And now that I’ve been home for a few days, I’ve been busy logging all the birds into eBird, plus selecting and editing the photos I’m going to use for the blog. I wish I had a few more photos of some of the great raptors that inhabit the valley, but they can be difficult to get pictures of. Some of the raptors seen were through the window of either a bus or a van, and if you’ve ever tried to photograph anything through a window you already know that the result are usually poor.

South Texas is a sub-tropical brush country, with the majority of vegetation comprising of Mesquite, small Live Oak, Yucca, Post Oak, Prickly Pear Cactus, Catclaw, Blackbrush, Huisache, and Guajillo. The vegetation is relatively low so straining your neck to view birds in high trees is usually not a problem except in areas around water. What this vegetation lacks in height it makes up in density. A bird could be calling at eye level just 5 feet from you, and you’ll never see it. It’s definitely a different kind of birding.

Besides my regular field trips which took me to King Ranch, Laguna Atascosa NWR, Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, and some prime spots in the upper valley, I also went to Estero Llano Grande State Park, Sabal Palm Sanctuary, South Padre Island, and Anzalduas Park. I drove and birded along Routes 48 and 100 looking for species of birds to add to my list or to just take a photo of.

It truly was a once in a life time trip for me, and if you ever have an opportunity to travel there, either for the festival or bird on your own, you’ll not be disappointed.

So after going over the multitude of lists, and getting everything organized, here is a list of all the birds I saw at the festival. The list will be intermixed with some of my better, and not so good pictures.

IMG_3670Black-bellied Whistling Duck

IMG_3581Loggerhead Shrike

  • Black-bellied Whistling Duck-Lifer
  • Greater White-fronted Goose
  • Gadwall
  • American Wigeon
  • Mottled Duck-Lifer
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Redhead
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Plain Chachalaca

IMG_3616Black-crested Titmouse


Olive Sparrow

  • Wild Turkey
  • Least Grebe-Lifer
  • Eared Grebe
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Neotropic Cormorant
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Anhinga
  • American White Pelican
  • Brown Pelican

IMG_3620Ladder-backed Woodpecker

IMG_3955Golden-fronted Woodpecker

  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Tricolored Heron
  • Reddish Heron
  • Cattle Egret
  • Yellow-crowned Night-Heron


  • White Ibis
  • Glossy-faced Ibis
  • Roseate Spoonbill-Lifer
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Osprey

IMG_3641Tropical Kingbird

  • White-tailed Hawk-Lifer
  • Northern Harrier
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Harris Hawk-Lifer
  • Swainson’s Hawk-Lifer
  • Broad-winged Hawk
  • Gray Hawk-Lifer
  • White-tailed Kite-Lifer
  • Zone-tailed Hawk-Lifer

IMG_3659Green Parakeet

  • Sora
  • Clapper Rail
  • Common Gallinule
  • American Coot
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Black-necked Stilt
  • American Oystercatcher
  • Greater Pewee-Lifer

IMG_3673Red-crowned Parrot

  • Northern Bobwhite
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Black-bellied Plover
  • Semipalmated Plover
  • Piping Plover
  • Killdeer
  • Spotted Sandpiper

IMG_3690Couch’s Kingbird

  • Greater Yellowlegs
  • Willet
  • Long-billed Curlew-Lifer
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Ruddy Turnstone
  • Sanderling
  • Dunlin
  • Least Sandpiper

IMG_3692Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

  • Pectoral Sandpiper
  • Western Sandpiper
  • Long-billed Dowitcher
  • Bonaparte’s Gull
  • Laughing Gull
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Forester’s Tern
  • Bonaparte’s Gull

IMG_3733Ferruginous Pygmy-owl

IMG_3551Black-necked Stilt

  • Royal Tern
  • Black Skimmer
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Eurasian Collared Dove
  • White-winged Dove-Lifer
  • White-tipped Dove-Lifer
  • Inca Dove-Lifer
  • Mourning Dove
  • Common Ground Dove

IMG_3766Green Jay

IMG_3763Green Jay

  • Greater Roadrunner-Lifer
  • Barn Owl
  • Eastern (McCall’s) Screech Owl
  • Common Paraque-Lifer
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Blue-throated Hummingbird-Lifer
  • Buff-bellied Hummingbird-Lifer

IMG_3771White-tipped Dove

IMG_3956White-winged Dove

  • Ringed Kingfisher-Lifer
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Green Kingfisher-Lifer
  • Golden-fronted Woodpecker-Lifer
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker-Lifer
  • Crested Caracara-Lifer

IMG_3785Least Grebe

IMG_3542Ringed Kingfisher

  • American Kestrel
  • Merlin
  • Aplomado Falcon-Lifer
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Green Parakeet-Lifer
  • Red-crowned Parrot-Lifer
  • Red-lored Parrot-Lifer

IMG_3787Altamira Oriole

IMG_3535Yellow-crowned Night Heron

  • Black Phoebe-Lifer
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Vermillion Flycatcher-Lifer
  • Great Kiskadee
  • Tropical Kingbird-Lifer
  • Couch’s Kingbird-Lifer
  • Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

IMG_3789Green Kingfisher

IMG_3539Eastern (McCall’s) Screech Owl

  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Green Jay-Lifer
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • Chihuahuan Raven-Lifer
  • Tree Swallow

IMG_3834Greater Roadrunner

IMG_3536Common Paraque

  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Bank Swallow
  • Barn Swallow
  • Cave Swallow-Lifer
  • Black-crested Titmouse-Lifer
  • Verdin-Lifer

IMG_3849Curved-billed Thrasher

IMG_3959Long-billed Thrasher

  • Bewick’s Wren
  • House Wren
  • Marsh Wren
  • Carolina Wren
  • Cactus Wren-Lifer

IMG_3855Golden-fronted Woodpecker

IMG_3531Eastern Phoebe

IMG_3925Black Phoebe

  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Black-tailed Gnatcatcher-Lifer
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Wood Thrush
  • Clay-colored Thrush-Lifer
  • Great Horned Owl

IMG_3873Plain Chachalaca

IMG_3827Crested Caracara

  • Gray Catbird
  • Curved-billed Thrasher-Lifer
  • Long-billed Thrasher-Lifer
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • European Starling
  • American Pipit
  • Wood Stork

IMG_3877Clay-colored Thrush

IMG_3912Great Kiskadee

  • Black & White warbler
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • Orange-crowned warbler
  • Nashville Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Tropical Parula-Lifer
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Wilson’s Warbler
  • Hooded Warbler

IMG_3937Aplomado Falcon

IMG_3945Inca Dove

  • Olive Sparrow-Lifer
  • Cassin’s Sparrow-Lifer
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • Black-throated Sparrow-Lifer
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Pyrrhuloxia-Lifer
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Lazuli Bunting-Lifer
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Dickcissel

IMG_3559Long-billed Curlew

IMG_3563Eurasian-collared Dove

IMG_3564Great-tailed Grackle

  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Great-tailed Grackle-Lifer
  • Hooded Oriole-Lifer
  • Altamira Oriole-Lifer
  • Audubon’s Oriole-Lifer
  • Lesser Goldfinch-Lifer
  • House Finch

IMG_3574Roseate Spoonbill

So after tallying up all the birds I feel another trip is in order. There are so many birds down there that haven’t been ticked off yet, and all I would need is a few extra days to find them. However reality is a vicious mistress and I have to settle with what I have for the time being. So if my math is correct I saw 168 species with 57 new life birds.

Despite the fact this far exceeded my expectations when it came to “Life Birds” for the trip, I feel cheated somewhat. Somehow I feel the structure of the tours provided by the festival prevents a birder who isn’t used to birding with a large group from fulfilling the birds that could’ve been sighted.

Maybe I’m getting old and stuck in my way of birding, but when you’re out with another birder, the two of you can do so much better than when a van or bus pulls up and off-loads large groups of birders. The direct advantage of large groups is more eyes on the birds, which in turn produce more birds to be seen, however what’s missing is the stalking of the bird hidden in the dense undergrowth. The “Chip” note that goes undetected by a large group. The quiet! Silence can be golden and some feel this is their socialization time, and trying to discern a faint call from all the talking can be bothersome.

Despite this editorial I would attend this festival again. I know what to expect and would adjust. I meet people who I really liked and would love to contact again. The tours were great and where else would you find a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl except at a festival like this. However give me a week with Jon down there and we’d clean house.

On The Road:RGVBF-Day 5 -Bentsen Rio Grande State Park

Well it’s finally over and boy am I exhausted. But it’s a good kind of exhausted and a once in a life time experience.  The birds were nothing but phenomenal,  while all the staff and trip leaders were all very nice and helpful.
Today’s trip took us once again down to the border with Mexico and we went to Bentsen Rio Grande State Park. This is just another example of a superior park developed for us nature loving bird watchers. This trip there were only 11 attendees along with 2 leaders, so this was a more personal trip where everyone had ample opportunities to see the birds without having to battle a large crowd.
This trip bagged me 3 more life birds, an since I’m leaving tomorrow afternoon I really don’t think I will find any more new birds.
New life birds include:
Cave Swallow
Audubon’s Oriole
Black Phoebe




On The Road:RGVBF-Laguna Atascosa N.W.R. & Anzaluduas County Park

Laguna Atascosa is massive. I once thought that Ottawa N.W.R. was large but when we started our tour in our customary tour bus you knew we were in for something special. After a long drive on a single lane road the place really opened up when we came into view of the Laguna Madre. The Laguna Madre is the area between the mainland of Texas and barrier island of South Padre Island. We saw ten of thousands of various ducks and other wading birds as we drove a short while, then stopped and everyone got out of the bus to look at the birds. This process of starting and stopping wasn’t quite my cup of tea of birding, however when you have a large group this is probably the best way to do it. I think the best way to really cover any refuge of this size would be on the back of a bicycle.
After this field trip was over I drove to Anzalduas Park on a hot tip from my bus buddy on a Greater Pewee that has been there for a few days.
It was another full day with just one more left.
Life birds for the day include:
Greater Roadrunner
Greater Pewee


On The Road: RGVBF-King Ranch Norias Division

This morning we travelled to the fabled King Ranch Norias Division, which is the second largest division of the whole ranch. And if you would put the whole ranch together it would be larger the Rhode Island. And if you’re at the RGVBF one of the main reasons you go to King Ranch is to see the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl. And boy did the group work har to try and locate this elusive bird. Our leader is in charge of all eco-tourism tours for the ranch. While as a grad student he worked on the ranch studying the birds on the ranch. He was approached by the ranch to head up the eco-tourism branch that the ranch offers.
It was a pretty successful day and when it was finally over myself and birding friend from Kentucky, Gene Dennis, drove over to Sabal Palm Birding Center. It was at Sabal Palm where I had a little more success.
Life Birds for today include
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
Northern Beardless-tyrannulet
Bronzed Cowbird
Chihuahuan Raven
Gray Hawk
Buff-bellied Hummingbird




On The Road: RGVBF Day 2- Upper Rio Grande Valley

Todays field trip took us 2 hours by bus up the Rio Grande valley in search of habitat specific birds that differ from the tropical lower valley. It was still another hot day but the air seemed drier and the birds were harder to pick up on. After this trip I waited around for another field trip that involved 4 vans driving around town looking for roosting Green Parakeets and Red-crowned Parrots.
Life birds today include
Green Parakeet
Red-crowned Parrot
Red-Lored Parrot
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Zone-tailed Hawk
Olive Sparrow
Hooded Oriole
Black-throated Sparrow